If the thought of driving in icy or snowy conditions leaves you frozen with fear, you’re not alone. Unlike our continental neighbours, many of us are not used to icy roads and heavy snowfalls. But by taking a few steps, you can prepare both yourself and your vehicle for the most challenging of winter driving.
Prepare for your journey
Before you set off, clear any ice and snow that has formed on your car. Don’t be lazy and just make a little porthole on the driver’s side of the windscreen! Give yourself enough time to remove all the ice and snow from your car. Ideally, you should use an ice-scraper and a de-icer.
To reduce the condensation on cold windows use the air-conditioning (if you have it) instead of heated air to demist your windows more quickly and effectively.
Keep all your windows clean and smear-free during the winter months. The glare from low winter sun can be blinding at the best of times but is much worse on dirty windscreens. Another way to protect yourself from the sun’s glare while you’re at the wheel is by having a pair of anti-glare sunglasses on you – make sure they’re not the really dark ones you take skiing, as they might not be suitable for driving.
Don’t forget to put together a winter driving survival kit if you’re going on a long journey, or somewhere that’s more remote: ice-scraper, de-icer for windows, a mobile phone, a flask of hot drink or soup, some chocolate or other high-energy snacks, blankets and warm clothing. Save some room in the boot for other emergency essentials, such as a duvet, warning triangle, torch, jump leads, towrope, first-aid kit and, and if very heavy snow is expected, a spade in case you need to dig your car out.
Stay safe throughout your journey
Once you’re on the road, watch your speed and only drive as fast as the conditions allow. Stopping distances are 10 times longer in ice and snow, which means that at 50mph it will take you 530 metres or 130 cars to come to a halt.
After heavy snowfalls keep to the main roads as they’re more likely to have been gritted. To prevent skidding, try to limit gear changes by driving slowly in the highest gear possible (without making the engine labour). If you have an automatic, take it out of Drive and go into 2. This will limit gear changes and make you less reliant on the brakes.
The drop in visibility at night time means that you have to be even more cautious after dusk. As well as all the usual hazards of winter driving, you have the added problems associated with driving after dark. It’s harder to judge speed and distance, so objects can seem to appear out of nowhere. What’s more, you’re probably less alert as your body thinks it’s time to sleep. The best action is to slow right down, use your fog lamps if visibility drops below 100 metres. If you wear glasses, an anti-glare coating will help reduce headlight glare.
What do I do if I skid?
A car skids when one or more tyres lose their grip with the road’s surface. Things like heavy acceleration or braking abruptly in snowy or icy conditions can cause this. If your wheels lock and you go into a skid, ease off the accelerator or take your foot off the brake pedal (depending on which has caused the skid) and gently steer into the direction of the skid until your tyres grip the road again. Don’t overcorrect as you’ll end up sliding the other way. Of course, prevention is better than cure, so drive slowly, manoeuvre gently, decelerate more and brake less. The key is to allow more time for your journeys, and accept that you may arrive at your destination later than planned.