Consider the risks of winter motoring
If you don't want to have problems in the worst driving conditions, no-one is going to blame you if you just stay at home, says DAVE MOORE.
Avoid driving in snow and other treacherous conditions, especially if you have little or no experience of them. Never set off when it's snowing or if it's forecast to do so, as it will only get worse before it gets better.
The same goes for driving in other bad conditions like fog, heavy rain and ice. Consider alternatives such as walking or using public transport if available.
Speak to your employer in advance about working from home when weather is very bad, especially if you live in a rural area prone to snow or floods.
But if you think you might just HAVE to drive, be prepared.
Make sure your vehicle is well maintained, and tyres have good tread depth of at least 4mm.
Check forecasts and plan your route to avoid roads likely to be more risky Allow plenty of time. Pack a winter driving kit in case you're caught out.
This should include: an ice scraper or de-icer; torch; cloths; a blanket and warm clothes; food and drink; first-aid kit; shovel; and a high-vis vest.
Always take a fully charged phone in case of emergencies, but don't be tempted to use it when driving.
If you're venturing out in snow without decent tyres and a set of chains at the ready - expect a few "We told-you-sos" when and if you get back!
Ensure your windows are clean and clear, and that you have all- round visibility before you set off.
Also take the time to clear snow off the roof of your car. Use your dipped headlights and avoid foglights - they can create dangerous glare in snow, ice, rain and sleet.
But most importantly, you need to slow right down and increase the distance behind the vehicle in front. In rain your stopping distance doubles, so keep a four-second gap at least.
In snow or icy conditions stopping distances increase by as much as 10 times so you need to drop right back. Keep a careful look out for people on foot and cyclists who may be harder to spot.
Avoid abrupt braking and hard acceleration and carry out manoeuvres slowly, smoothly and with extra care.
When driving in snow, get your speed right - not too fast that you risk losing control, but not so slow that you risk losing momentum when it is needed.
From stationary, start gently and avoid high revs. Stay in a higher gear to avoid skidding and maximise control. If it is very slippery, in a manual car move off in a higher gear, rather than just using first.
If you get yourself into a skid, the main thing to remember is to take your foot off the pedals and steer into the skid. Only use the brake if you cannot steer out of trouble.
It's better to think ahead as you drive to keep moving, even if it is at walking pace.
Plan your journey around busier roads as they are more likely to have been gritted or snowploughed. Avoid using short cuts on minor roads - they are less likely to be cleared or treated, especially country lanes and residential areas.
Bends are a particular problem in icy 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 to slow down once things get slippery.
The most important message is to err on the side of caution and not drive if it's snowing, forecast to snow, or if there are other potentially deadly conditions. Ice, snow, heavy rain and fog make driving very risky and if you can't see clearly you can't react to hazards.
But if the worst does happen:
- Keep track of where you are. If you do have to call for assistance, you need to be able to tell the breakdown or emergency services your location.
- If you must leave your vehicle for any reason, find a safe place to stand away from the traffic flow. If you have just lost control, the next driver could well do the same in the same place.
- If you break down or have to pull over on a main road, it is always better to leave your vehicle and stand a short distance to the safe side of it. Don't stand in front of it if at all possible. Balancing the risks of a collision and hypothermia is something that depends on your situation.
Dave Moore is The Press motoring editor.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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