Tuesday 30 November 2010

Top tips on Driving in the snow and ice

Well after skidding down a small hill and right across a cross roads I decided now would be a good time to learn how not to kill myself or my children in a car before Christmas. So I looked all over teh internet from the AA, RAC, Institute of Advanced Motorists, Maccinfo and many others to come up with a short/longlist of top tips for driving in the snow and ice for us Brits…
1.Before even setting foot outdoors, let alone starting the engine up:
  •  Check the weather before you plan to go – don’t ignore police warnings about closed roads or advice to not travel on specific routes.
  • Ask yourself truthfully:
  1. Do you actually have to go? Is it really necessary to leave home?
  2. Can you work from home for a day or two by using the internet or home phone? It could be a good time to catch up on correspondence and stuff you’ve been meaning to do but don’t get round to in a busy office environment?
  3. Do the children really need to go to school? Could they not have some time out with you for one day? It may be a great tiem to help sort out their bedrooms, clear away the junk make ready for Christmas etc
  4. Can you change your appointments to another day? Could you not wait an extra week for your hair to be cut.
Basically, if you really don’t need to go out don’t because the less of us on the roads the better for those who really do need to be out there.

2. So you really, really, need to go well wait a sec; have you got everything you need just in case? I know over the top advice but hey think of all those poor souls in Scotland who landed up having to stay in their car ALL night because of the snow!!!!
  •  Is it a good time to car-share especially if the other person has a 4x4 ( and knows how to drive it)!
  •  Plan your journey around busier main roads as they are more likely to have been gritted. Avoid using short cuts on minor roads – they are less likely to be cleared or treated with salt, especially country lanes.
  • Get up at least 10 minutes early to give you time to prepare your car.
  •  Make sure all of your lights work properly, and keep them free of dirt so other people can see you and your signals.
  • Before you start, clear all snow from your car as snow on the bonnet can blow onto your windscreen, smow on the roof can be blown back onto traffic following or in some cases fall forward across the windscreen when you brake.
  • Keep your screen wash reservoir well topped up. Don't just add washing up liquid – use a proper screen wash additive to prevent freezing.
  • Have a clean, cotton cloth to hand to keep the inside of windows free of distracting smears.
  • Make sure you have a basic winter car kit in the boot - at the very least a scraper and de-mister for city driving, and a spade, bag of salt/grit/ kitty litter if you live in - or are driving to - a rural location. A torch, first-aid kit, tow rope, blankets, warm coat and boots, jump leads, snow shovel, warning triangle, an old sack or rug are all very handy.
  • Take food and water.
  • On longer journeys always let someone know you have set off and tell them your planned route. 
  • Ensure that your mobile phone is charged. 
  • Do a proper winter check of your vehicle, looking at washer fluid, de-icer/scraper and tyres.
  • Wear warm, comfortable clothes. Wear comfortable, dry shoes: cumbersome, snow-covered boots will slip on the pedals.
  •  If you leave the car engine running to help de-ice windows before you start the journey, make sure that there is someone with the car – a cold thief may see a warm opportunity, and some insurers may not pay out in those circumstances
Prepare to be late.

3.So you’re off but there are still things to consider:
  • Leave early! Allow yourself the extra time to drive more slowly. Other motorists will be driving slowly, and overtaking may not be an option. You don't need the extra stress of being late for an appointment.
  • Check for signs of ice before setting off and while you drive - most modern cars have ice warning lights or outside temperature gauges - ice is likely at anything below three degrees Celcius.
    The Highways Agency warns that if your tyres are very quiet, it could be a sign you're driving on ice, so take great care and slow down without heavy braking.
  • Start gently from stationary, avoiding high revs.
  •  If you get yourself into a skid the main thing to remember is to take your foot off the pedals and steer. Depress the clutch and turn the steering wheel into the direction of the skid. When the vehicle straightens steer along the road. Don't brake - it will just lock up your wheels and you'll skid further.
  •  Reduce your risk of skidding by reducing your speed, too much power is often the source of problems in snow and ice.
  • Only use the brake if you cannot steer out of trouble.
  • Gentle manoeuvres are the key to safe driving.
  •  It’s better to think ahead as you drive to keep moving, even if it is at walking pace.
  •  Stopping distances are up to ten times longer in wintry conditions, so drivers should use all the car's controls - brakes, accelerator and steering - gently.
  •  Braking well before turning and leaving a large gap between you and the vehicle in front is also essential.
  •  If your vehicle has ABS in very slippery conditions it will not give you the same control it would in others. Don’t rely on it. Traction control and other electronic systems (ESC) can really  help – but they cannot overcome the laws of physics, so don’t rely on them, use common sense
  •   4x4 four wheel drive vehicles can keep going in slippery conditions, but their brakes are no better than an ordinary car, and being heavier, they tend to have longer stopping distances - even in good conditions.
  •  Bends are a particular problem in slippery conditions – slow down before you get to the bend, so that by the time you turn the steering wheel you have already lost enough speed
  •  On a downhill slope get your speed low before you start the descent, and do not let it build up – it is much easier to keep it low than to try and slow down once things get slippery
  • When driving downhill, choose third or fourth gear to prevent skidding.
  • Select second gear when pulling away, easing your foot off the clutch gently to avoid wheel-spin.
  • Try to maintain a constant speed, choosing the most suitable gear in advance to avoid having to change down while climbing a hill.
  •  Stay in as high a gear as possible as it will reduce the chances of accelerator movement leading to loss of traction.
  • When snow or slush accumulates in ridges between lanes, avoid putting your wheels on these unless you absolutely have to.
  • In falling snow use dipped headlights or foglights to make yourself visible to others (especially pedestrians) – but as conditions improve make sure your foglights are only on if necessary as they can dazzle other drivers
  •  On motorways stay in the clearest lane where possible, away from slush and ice. Keep within the clear tyre tracks if you can.
  • If you are following another vehicle at night, using their lights to see ahead can cause you to drive dangerously close – keep well back from other traffic.
  •  Having windscreen wipers working for a lengthy time with snow falling can be mesmeric and quite a strain – be prepared to stop and give your eyes a rest, but choose the right place to do it!
  •  If you do get stuck, straighten the steering and clear the snow from the wheels. Put a sack or old rug in front of the driving wheels to give the tyres some grip. Once on the move again, try not to stop until you reach firmer ground.
4. It’s not just you out there, you’ve got to watch out for the other buggers.
  • Lorrries can have large amounts of snow or ice on top that must come off sometime – be prepared for it to blow off on to your windscreen.
  • Watch the behaviour of oncoming traffic; you may have to avoid them if they slide towards you.
  • Expect other road users to be unable to stop at junctions.
  • Cars approaching a narrowing of the road uphill, will not want to stop in case they can't start again. Cars approaching downhill, may be unable to stop without skidding.
  • Try to leave a 10 second gap between you and the car in front.
  • The 10 second gap allows for increased stopping distances, and gives you time to respond if the car in front has problems. 
  • If the car behind is too close, find a good place to stop and let them go on ahead. (Then you can concentrate on the road ahead.
  •  If they stop, you may have time and space to steer a different course, or by slowing down you can allow time for the obstruction to clear without having to stop and restart yourself.

5. Beware of the danger zones
  • Black ice forms in shaded spots and areas exposed to cold winds.  Bridges are particularly prone to ice over first and thaw last
  • Approaches to junctions are usually more slippery, where the surface has been warn smooth by drivers constantly braking and trying to accelerate away.
  • Fresh snow can have frozen ice underneath it.  If it has fallen on dry clear ground the fresh, virgin snow will have a little more grip than where it has been compacted by other traffic.  If it has fallen on top of old snow be aware that you may actually be driving on wet ice.
  • As snow or ice melt they can leave a very slippery layer – slush is slippery stuff!

6. If the worst comes to the worst…
  • Keep track of where you are.  If you need to call for assistance, you need to be able to tell the breakdown or emergency services your location, so they can find you
  • If you must leave your vehicle to telephone for assistance, find a safe place to stand away from the traffic flow. If you have just lost control the next driver can do the same in the same place.
  • On Motorways and dual carriageways it is usually better to leave your vehicle and stand a short distance behind and to the safe side of it.

Safe driving and if in doubt STAY AT HOME!!!!


Mother Hen said...

Well said and well typed. Messy here in Essex which will be ice later and that is the worst to drive in.
Be safe.

Anonymous said...

Really comprehensive tips here - thanks. If you'd to read about some even more advanced winter driving techniques have a look here:

Winter driving tips

Jen Walshaw said...

What a great post, I wish a lot of people would have the sence to read it. We have a lot of snow and both know how to drive in it, but the speed that other people travel in makes ut very scarey

Tattieweasle said...

Mother Hen - Same here! decided to take my own advice and after getting half way to school some 16 miles away turned round and came home - the pick up this evening would/will be dreadful!
Timmys - So glad you think the tips are comprehensive. It was a real learning expreience reading them all and trying to take them in. Feel I know very little about driving full stop and that is scary! I ought to go on an Advanced Driving Course.
TheMadHouse - Thank you. I agree it is terrifying how fast people drive in this weather. Problem is if you get an aggressive driver behind you it is very difficult not to be forced into going faster than you really would like.

Tattieweasle said...

Just had a look at Timmys link - it was really good and not too difficult for a technophobe like me to understand!

Trish said...

I try to avoid driving in the snow and ice if I can: I really don't like it and hate the feeling of panic when I feel the car slipping away from me.
Can't believe how many idiots I see driving with masses of snow on their car - madness.

Tattieweasle said...

Trish - after researching it all I was getting really quite mad about it on my way to school this morning, felt like giving people a really good talking to! I knowe it is difficult to getthe snow off you car in teh mornings I use a soft broom and a chair must look bonkers to our neighbour!

Spencer Park said...

Thank you for your hard work Tattie.

Tattieweasle said...

Spencer - you don't know the half of it :) I think it was testing out all the things NOT to do that took the longest!!! It was certainly the scariest...

mrsnesbitt said...

Hi Tattie - I am one of the poor souls from North Yorkshire who has now been housebound for an entire week Even now - although the sun has just come out the sky is heavy and grey with more snow. We live on the moors and have a 4x4 which I am quite happy to let hubby use to get to his workshop - only a couple of miles away. I had a nasty accident in 2000 and lost my confidence. Hubby however loves 4x4 stuff so we are both happy I have my home, fuel, food & friends - what else do I need? Oh yes - we have a bottle of wine in too! (Oh the sun has disappeared!)

Go on you know you want to...


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