Driving in Winter Conditions

Driving in winterEmerging from Junctions

When the roads are slippery due to snow and ice, you must make allowances and change the way you go about driving in winter conditions.

When pulling out of a junction you must exercise restraint and good judgement. You can’t set off with the same acceleration that would normally be possible on a dry road surface. You will need a much bigger gap than you would normally take to pull into the traffic flow. Emerging and causing someone else to slow down is bad practice under any conditions; but on snow the result could easily cause an accident. You must judge your gap carefully so that no-one has to brake in order to make room for you.

Hill Climbing and Descending

Steep hills usually require the use of a lower gear to give extra power for climbing. The same rules apply on ice and snow; but you must engage the correct gear for the whole climb before it begins. It’s no good attempting to run at a slope in top gear and then changing down when the momentum starts to fall. A gear change at this point could easily result in the wheels spinning when the extra power hits them. Decide which gear you need and change down gently on the approach.

You should also change to a lower gear to provide engine braking for a steep downhill descent in good time, and before the drop begins. If you leave it too late and find that you’re going too quickly, brake and change down at this point and you could lose control altogether.

Getting Stuck

No matter how careful you are, there’s always the chance that after slowing or stopping in fairly deep snow your wheels will refuse to grip and you become stuck. This problem tends to occur more where other vehicles have passed through forming ridges in the drifts.

There are several options open to you; if you can’t move forward, try reversing a short distance to clear a small area, and then pull forwards again, perhaps using second gear to reduce the chance of wheel-spin. If this doesn’t work, turn the wheels onto a different angle and maybe the tyres will then find something to ‘bite’ on.

When your car refuses to move by these methods, it may be time to politely ask someone to give you a push, but if no-one is available or willing then only planning in advance will get you moving.

It’s a good idea to carry a snow shovel in the boot to help with these situations so that you can dig yourself out, or as an alternative; you can put strips of sacking or carpet under the wheels to provide a temporary grip, these need to be placed under the ‘driving’ wheels so make sure you know if your car is front or rear wheel drive. If you use sacking, be sure to drive just far enough so that you can stop and retrieve the strips so that you can use them again.

Falling Snow

If you’re on the move as snow is falling, be sure to switch on your dipped headlights, even during the day. Whenever visibility is poor you must make sure that others can see you.

In particularly heavy snow, you may find that snow builds up on your windows and door mirrors. When this happens, don’t hesitate to stop in a safe place if necessary to get out and clear the glass. Don’t forget to wipe the snow from your lights as well.

Black Ice

As the temperature drops, ice can begin to form on the roads unnoticed. When small water deposits on roads freeze and expand, thin transparent sheets can form on the surface. ‘Black ice‘ ; an invisible and deadly menace.

There are two ways of detecting the formation of ice and frost. One of the first indications is that the roads tend to become quieter; your wheels will make much less sound as they run on the surface. Steering will feel curiously light, these are warnings to slow down and fall well back from the vehicle ahead.

You must also treat overnight frost with caution. Although it may be clearly visible don’t make the mistake of thinking it any less dangerous. Even when it begins to thaw under the onslaught of the sun, you must still be vigilant. Areas which are under the shadow of buildings or trees may remain frozen well into the day.

This text is an excerpt from the Glovebox Guide – Driving at Night & in Bad Weather


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