Cold weather presents road users with an array of challenges. It will place mechanical stress on the vehicles we drive. But it can also force us to adapt our driving styles to cope with the slippery surface and poor visibility.
During winter, we’re more likely to come up against snow, ice, fog, and night-time driving. It’s therefore essential that we equip ourselves with the driving techniques we need to face these threats.
Adapted Driving Techniques
A few driving practices stand out as especially useful in cold weather.
The most important of these is limiting your speed, which will in turn help to limit your distance from the vehicle in front. By driving more slowly, you’ll limit your stopping distance, and make a collision less likely – and less dangerous.
It’s also worth driving in a higher gear when the road conditions are slippery. This will give you a better chance of maintaining your grip on the road. Some automatics might even allow you to manually select second gear when you’re pulling away from a standing start.
By changing the tyres, wipers and engine oil in your vehicle, you’ll give yourself a better chance of avoiding problems. If you’re shopping for used cars, this should be considered an important first step.
Braking and Acceleration Strategies
The best way to increase and decrease your speed in cold weather is: gradually. If you make sudden movements, or try to brake or accelerate aggressively, then you risk losing control of the vehicle.
If you want to slow the vehicle down, the better approach might be to downshift and rely on the engine to do the work. Look at the road ahead of you and plan what you’re going to do in advance. Don’t drive impulsively. Again, the lower your speed, the easier this will be to do.
Cornering and Steering in Snowy Conditions
When you turn the steering wheel, you’re creating an opportunity for a skid – especially on snow-covered roads. We should also think about how we’ll react to skids and slides, which can often result from so-called ‘black ice’. Keep both hands on the wheel, steer into the slide, and apply the brakes gently once you’ve regained control of the vehicle. The slower you’re driving, the better your chances.
Additional Winter Driving Tips
There are other situations which call for a slightly different approach. If you’re ascending a hill, keep your speed constant, and don’t turn in either direction. You shouldn’t need to change gear. If you’re going downhill, then use a low gear and avoid braking unless it’s absolutely critical. Planning your route in advance, setting out early, and paying attention to the weather warnings, will all help.