AS THE ‘beast from the east’ blasts Britain with freezing weather conditions, the nation’s drivers are having to adapt to driving on the white stuff. Despite long-range forecasts and weather warnings from the emergency services, advising drivers in parts of the UK not to travel unless they have to, motorists are still getting caught out on the roads as gritting lorries and snow ploughs struggle to keep the roads free from snow.
That’s why it does no harm to be reminded of the dos and don’ts of winter driving. Follow these steps and you’re more likely to escape a scrape.
1. Met Office says don’t drive unless you have to
Drivers are being warned not to travel unless they have to. Across the UK, the Met Office has issued Amber warnings, which advise of the risk of serious travel delays on roads, the possibility of becoming stranded on the road, delays or cancellations to rail and air travel and some rural communities could become cut off. Power cuts may also occur and other services, such as mobile phones, may be affected. So heed the warning and stay at home.
2. Plan the route carefully
If you have to drive, and have the right tyres and safety equipment in your car, the next step is to plan your route. Get the lowdown on your route before you set off. Traffic information is available from Highways England or AA Roadwatch online, on 84322 from your mobile or 0906 8884322 from a landline (mobile calls cost 60p per minute at all times. Landline calls cost 65p per minute at all times, plus your phone company’s access charge). Take your mobile phone with you and if necessary let someone know where you’re going and what time you expect to arrive.
3. De-ice properly before setting off
Pouring hot water over your windscreen could crack it. Don’t use your windscreen wipers either, as this will shred the blades. Use a de-icer and an ice scraper, or a soft brush or broom, and clear snow off the roof of the car and tyres as well as all windows and mirrors.
4. Prevent a flat battery
Flat batteries are the most common reason for cold weather callouts. The RAC says: “Before you start the car in the morning, make sure everything is switched off, including the heater, blower and light switches. Turn the ignition key to the ‘on’ position for two or three seconds to allow the electronics to get going, then engage the engine. That is the least load on the battery you can have to start the vehicle.”
5. Don’t let air out of your tyres
It’s an oft-repeated myth, but reducing your tyre pressures will not help your grip on snow, say experts. “Your tyres are designed to function at a certain pressure and changing that could be dangerous,” says Adrian Tink of the RAC. “The most important thing is to make sure you have sufficient tread depth.” In Britain that means at least 1.6mm. In snow you should aim for 3mm.
6. Beware the silence — it could mean you’re driving on ice
If everything suddenly goes eerily quiet, the chances are you’re driving on ice. Black ice most often builds up on bridges and underpasses, where there is cold, wet air passing above and below the surface. Most modern cars have anti-lock brakes so if you lose traction, brake with full force and the on-board computer will do the rest. If you don’t have ABS, lift your foot off the accelerator and smoothly point the wheels into the slide.
7. Keep a larger gap to the car in front
Leave an 10-second gap between you and the car in front. This applies to 4×4 drivers as well — they may find it easier to gain traction as they head out of a snowdrift, but they’ll have the same grip issues when stopping.
8. Use higher gears
Try setting off in a higher gear when driving on snow and ice. This reduces wheel rotations, so lessening your chance of skidding. Go down through the gears to help you slow down, applying the brakes only intermittently.
Three ways drivers can get a grip in snow
- Winter tyres: made from a different rubber composite from conventional tyres that does not harden in cold temperatures, these improve traction below 7C. Different tread patterns reduce stopping distances. They cost 10%-15% more than conventional tyres and about £50 to fit. Buy at BlackCircles.com
- Snow chains: fitted to the driven wheels of the car, chains increase grip by biting through the snow and ice. They are usually sold in pairs and must match a particular tyre size. Driving with chains will reduce fuel efficiency and limit the speed to 20-30mph. Fitting can be fiddly and they cost £50-£150 a set. Buy at Halfords.com
- Snow socks: a cheaper alternative that you pull over the tyres of the driven wheels. They are made of a textile that optimises grip on the road. Simpler to fit than snow chains, they cost about £50 a pair. Drivers must keep below 50mph. Buy at Halfords.com
Essential safety kit for driving in snow
- Blanket/sleeping bag
- Torch (with batteries)
- De-icer and scraper
- Mobile phone charger
- Spare headlamp bulbs
- Jump leads
- High-visibility vest
- Tyre pump
- High-energy snacks
- Hat and gloves
Source: the AA