04 January 2010

How to Drive in Snow

Since parts of the UK are gripped in the ravages of winter once more, I thought I would publish this sound advice for people who need to drive in icy conditions.  I've also followed these simple rules with explanations for their importance.
  1. Stay at home.
  2. Drive much slower than you would if there were no snow.
  3. Leave much more space between you and the car in front.
  4. Keep engine revs low.
  5. Use the highest gear possible without labouring the engine (1 is low, 5 is high).
  6. Don't brake, steer or accelerate suddenly or harshly.
  7. To slow the car, ease your foot off the accelerator and change down through the gears rather than using the brakes.
  8. If you skid, turn into the skid to straighten the car (i.e., if your back-end goes left, steer left, if it goes right, steer right).
  9. If you have skidded, you are going too fast.  Slow down by easing off the gas.
  10. Show other road users some patience.  Watch out for pedestrians.
  11. Roads that were ploughed and gritted yesterday may well be less safe today.
I have been prompted to publish this because of my experiences over the Christmas/New Year period.  People driving cars with four-wheel drive and ABS (Automatic Breaking System) seem to think they are immune to the hazards of snow and ice.  They are not.  In fact, ABS is useless on ice and, if you have four wheels on a sheet of ice, you have no guarantee that four-wheel drive will keep you moving in your chosen direction.  People get too close and drive too fast.  Even if you are immune, the car in front may not be; if the car in front gets into difficulty, and you are too close and too fast, you will hit it.

Here is some explanation of the rules.
  1. You are much safer in your home (unless your home is on a very icy bend!).
  2. You must do everything smoothly and slowly or you will lose control.  You must therefore reduce the chances of losing control by giving yourself time to act.
  3. Other people may lose control and you have to react to the situation ahead of you.  You must therefore give yourself enough space (and thus time).
  4. The point of this is to reduce the power being delivered to the driving wheels.  More power means more likelihood of losing grip.  For the same reason, it is a good idea to allow a cold engine to warm up before setting off so that the automatic choke is no longer raising your engine speed.
  5. This also reduces power at the wheels.  Get out of first as soon as you are moving, or even pull away in second.  If your car will pull in third once moving, use third as soon as you can.
  6. Steering, braking and acceleration rely on your tyres having grip on the road.  Move too suddenly and you will come unstuck.
  7. Using the gears in this way will keep your wheels turning but slow the car down.  Using the brakes will lock the wheels and slide you into the ditch.  You need space and time for this (see rules 2 & 3).
  8. Steering into the skid keeps the front of your car in front of the back.  If your car has rear-wheel drive you may like to put a couple of bags of sand in the boot.  This weighs down the back end, giving it more traction and inertia, making it less likely to slide about.
  9. Speed is your enemy.  Better to arrive at your destination late than explain your sudden appearance to your Maker.  Better late than 'late'.
  10. You may feel confident, others may not.  You may think you know what you are doing.  Be aware that others do not or are very nervous on ice.  If you lose patience, you will become a danger to yourself and others.  Pedestrians use the road because the paths are not clear.  They tend to wear inappropriate footwear and can slip into your path without warning.  They are soft and squishy. 
  11. Snow blows about.  More snow falls.  Salt washes away.  You never really know what you are driving on.  Never assume anything.
Here are some extra pointers.  Take a spade in case you need to dig yourself out.  Take extra clothing in case you get stranded; some boots in case you have to walk.  Take a phone.  Take some lengths of carpet with you: if you can't get out of a rut, put the carpets on the ground in front of and touching your drive-wheels (if you are trying to go forwards) and drive over them.  Don't leave them behind in case you need them again.

I hope someone finds this helpful.  Unless your journey is absolutely necessary, stay at home.  If you must drive, be a safer driver.

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