How to drive safely in snow and ice
Driving in ice and snow isn’t just about leaving more space, though. It requires a very different driving style that relatively few people are aware of.
For starters, your use of all the controls – steering, throttle and brake – should be as smooth, slow and progressive as you can make them. Abrupt changes in the car’s attitude will cause the tyres to lose what little grip on the road’s surface they have. That could lead to you skidding, spinning your wheels, or getting stuck before you’ve even pulled away.
In a manual car, move off slowly by slipping the clutch as gently as you can, keeping the engine revs low, and ensure you change gear early as you accelerate and late as you decelerate, again so that you keep the revs to a minimum. Lower revs mean the engine is turning more slowly, which reduces the risk of wheelspin.
If you’re driving an automatic or four-wheel-drive car, check to see whether it has a low-ratio mode. This can be indicated by a snowflake symbol or an ‘L’ on a switch near to the gear lever. If it has one of these, you should use it. You should avoid using ‘sport’ mode in an automatic car that’s so-equipped.
You should also try and avoid sudden manoeuvres that might unbalance the car, such as sharp steering or braking. Doing so increases the likelihood of your car skidding.
It is a good idea to gently test your brakes and steering now and again to get an idea of how slippery the road is. Obviously, you should pick a straight, clear piece of road away from any junctions, and make sure there’s nobody following you when you do so.
It’s also advisable to keep the volume of your radio turned down when driving on snow. Your ears can often give you the first warning that you’ve hit a slippery patch. Driving through snow patches will create more tyre noise than usual thanks to its crunching, as well as the roar of snow being kicked up into the wheel arches. Conversely, if the tyre noise suddenly goes quiet, that can mean you’re driving on a patch of ice.
If you do hit a patch of slippery road and you feel the car start to skid, you should take your foot off the accelerator and allow the speed to drop by itself until you regain control. Avoid using the brakes, as this will prolong the skid. If the car starts to spin while you are skidding, steer into the direction of the spin and allow the car to straighten up.