We tend to get quite excited in the UK when the first snow of the season falls. And with good reason—snow is beautiful to look at and great fun to play in! Unfortunately, once you start carrying out your daily duties, you quickly remember that this wintry weather can actually be a pain in the butt. This is particularly true when it comes to driving in the snow.
Your car does not take kindly to sitting out in freezing temperatures all night, and so it won’t jump into action in the speedy way you’re no doubt accustomed to. Once you do get on the road, there’s also a whole new plethora of hazards to content with.
To be clear, you should only take the wheel in these conditions if you really need to, because even with solid preparation it carries a fairly significant risk. For those that have to drive in the snow, though, here’s our top 7 tips to help you do so safely!
1. Take your time and plan ahead
Apart from catching a cold, pretty much everything takes longer to do in the snow. As a result, if you need to drive somewhere you should give yourself plenty of time to get the job done. For starters, your car (and you, for that matter!) will need to heat up a bit before going anywhere. Get your warm clothes on, grab some de-icer and get to work clearing the windscreen of snow and ice. Once that’s done, hop inside the car and get the demisters on. Do not set off until you have a clear view out of both the front and rear of the car.
All of this pre-drive faffing about is extra time you need to factor into your journey. On top of that, you need to be prepared for potential diversions. Some roads will be undrivable or even completely closed in snowy weather. It’ll therefore really pay off if you do some planning before you get in the car. Check the internet for any road closure news and map some alternative routes for your journey.
You also need to consider the fact that even if everything else goes smoothly, you should be driving at a slower speed than usual. Which leads us onto our next point…
2. Control your speed
Even if visibility is good and the roads are fairly empty, you need to take it slow when driving in the snow. Do this right from the beginning. When you start up the engine, accelerate gently (unless you’re facing downhill, in which case you shouldn’t have to accelerate at all—more on that later) and get into a high gear as quickly as possible. You might even move off in second gear if you can. This should give you more control and reduce the chances of your car’s wheels sliding.
Slippery surfaces combined with the unpredictable behaviour of other road users makes for a risky environment! The more time you have to react to hazards, the less likely you are to get into an accident. So, take it nice and easy. Drive slightly slower than you normally would and be extra gentle when braking and accelerating.
3. Make room for longer stopping distances
Those slippy and slidy surfaces mean that it’s going to take much longer for your car to come to a halt. In fact, it is estimated that stopping distances can increase up to 10 times in snowy and icy conditions! With this in mind, it’s really important that you keep a sizeable gap between you and the vehicles around you. If you’re on a hill, there’s also an increased likelihood that the car in front could roll backwards, or vice versa. Give everyone plenty of room to minimise the the risk of collisions.
Stopping in general is going to be quite tricky. Keep your eyes peeled for stop signs, traffic lights, give way lines, and anything else that signals you need to come to a stop soon. Get prepared to do so nice and early so that you have the time to do it smoothly and safely.
4. Brake on bends
Whether you’re driving on a long, winding road or simply tackling a single bend, you need to approach it slightly differently than you would in normal conditions. The lack of grip on the road means that making turns can be particularly perilous. When you see a bend in the road coming up, start to brake before you begin steering. The pressure you apply to both the brake pedal and steering wheel should be nice and slow.
If you do feel the car start to lose grip as it rounds the corner, try to remain calm. This is fairly common in snow and doesn’t have to be a disaster. Ensure that your wheels are pointing in the right direction and keep your foot off the accelerator until you gain full control over the car again.
5. Steer into skids
When there’s ice on the road, the car has the potential to skid even when you’re not turning a corner. If it’s black ice, it could also take you completely by surprise. This can be fairly nerve-wracking, but it’s important that you keep your cool. Remember to breathe, keep your hands on the wheel and try to gently steer into the skid.
What do we mean by that? Well, if for instance the back wheels have suddenly skidded out to the left, carefully steer to the left so that the wheels match up. Once you feel like you’ve regained control of the vehicle, start to position yourself correctly on the road.
6. Heavy snow calls for more light
Even if you’re out in the morning or the middle of the day, snowy weather often calls for more light. In other words, you should probably whack your dipped headlights on much earlier than you usually would. This not only helps you see the road ahead (and those pesky ice patches) more clearly, but helps make other drivers aware of your presence too. Popping your headlights on also means that the back of your car is lit up, as well as the front.
The darker or mistier it gets, the more light you will need. If visibility is significantly compromised because of the weather—we’re talking less than 100 metres—then you should go all the way and use your fog lights.
7. Approach hills carefully
Getting up and down hills can be quite daunting in the snow. Head downhill and you might find that the car runs away from you, try to get uphill and risk sliding backwards! The trick is to work with momentum.
So, if you’re heading uphill, try to build up the momentum you need before you actually start to climb, and let that carry you. (Don’t go crazy with this—you still need to be maintaining a safe speed!) If you don’t take this approach, you may find yourself desperately pressing the accelerator half way up the hill, only for your wheels to spin. Accelerating too much on the hill also risks leaving you with a surplus of momentum once you reach the top. Aim to keep a steady pace rather than charging up the hill.
When driving downhill in the snow, the weight of the car usually provides more than enough force to carry you down. In this circumstance, then, you should take it very slowly and work with the brake pedal to maintain a steady and safe speed all the way down. Don’t forget that it will take you longer than normal to come to a stop at the bottom of the hill.
With these 7 tips in your back pocket, you should be able to tackle driving in the snow with safety and ease!
For more handy hints and tricks on everything driving-related, head over to the PassMeFast blog.