The winter, unfortunately for some, is by now very much upon us, and as the nights continue to fall earlier and the temperatures rarely seem to creep into the positive part of the thermometer, it is time to take extra care on the roads.
On my way to work this morning there had been traffic chaos caused by a burst water mains on a main road into London. As if the Tube strike wasn’t bad enough, the water had obviously been seeping overnight and had turned the pavement and road surfaces into an ice rink. At least by this time of the morning there was a relatively generous amount of daylight about the place. Had it been dark I shudder to think of the dire state in which the traffic situation would have been.
Heavy snow has already been falling across the northern parts of the UK and it is due to drift into the south of the country overnight. Some drivers do not feel comfortable taking to the road in snowy conditions, and that is fair enough – they are indeed dangerous and unless the utmost care and attention is paid, serious personal injury can result. Some others feel comfortable enough to give it a go, and with Tube services across the capital continuing to be disrupted into tomorrow, the car may be many Londoners’ only option.
So here we have five tips for staying safe in these dangerous road conditions, no matter where in the country you are.
Some may be surprised to be told to let air out of their tyres, but this is often advisable in slippery conditions. Less air pressure increases the contact patch of the tyre and creates more grip. It is not advisable to drive with tyres like this in normal conditions, but whenever things get slippery underfoot it becomes a different matter. Remember to reinflate the tyres as soon as the weather becomes less treacherous. Driving on underinflated tyres, in normal conditions, will result in poor handling and increased tyre wear.
Use of the brakes
There is always the temptation to use the brakes if you feel the car sliding or going out of control, but they are a tool to be used sparingly in snowy or icy conditions. Obviously, in nose-to-tail rush hour traffic, they will be essential, and it is unlikely the car will ever top about 10 mph anyway.
But out on the more open road, it is possible, and almost advisable, to avoid using the brakes at all. It is surprisingly easy if you drive properly.
Use of the gears
In a car with manual transmission, it is advisable to keep the car in as high a gear as possible at all times – i.e. if you would normally use third gear along a stretch of road, try using fourth or fifth in the snow, and so on. This means that the wheels are less likely to spin out of control and cause you to lose grip or make unnecessary steering corrections.
Additionally you can slow the car by using engine braking – change down through gears (gently) rather than using the brakes, only using the middle pedal at the last possible moment. This often results, in thick snow, with the wheels ploughing a small furrow into the snow, building up a small drift in front of each wheel, which will aid the process.
Smooth steering inputs
Try driving as gently as possible in every way. A steering input that would be required to turn a 90-degree corner in the dry will very likely result in a spin in the snow. It is surprising how little input a vehicle needs when the road is offering little grip.
And above all…
Keep your distance!
Give yourself plenty of room for error! You never know what could happen in such dangerous conditions.