Winter driving - improve your safety

  • Author: OPONEO.CO.UK

Modern tyres, electronic systems, body aerodynamics and specially shaped windscreens – all of these things help you get safely home in winter. - Safety should be a priority for every driver, says Romuald Chałas, the chairman of the Polish Automobile Club and an experienced rally driver.- You should bear this in mind when choosing a new car for you and your family, as well as when you are preparing your car for winter. Suitable devices, winter tyres and simple common sense can save your life.

Winter tyres

The most important element when preparing your car for winter driving is choosing the right tyres. When the temperature during the day drops below 7°C, you should install winter tyres. In addition to their tread, they also have a large number of the so called sipes, that means that the tyre has a lot more edges to dig into the surface and to facilitate driving on snow and ice. It is also very important, that winter tyres use a different, softer silica-based rubber mix, which helps them remain flexible in low temperatures. That is why everyone should change their tyres in late fall, even those driving mainly in cities, where the roads are rarely covered in snow. Lack of snow does not mean that you can safely drive with summer tyres on a cool day. Only soft, cold-resistant tyres can provide good braking distance and grip in corners.

All tyres – even the winter ones - wear out over time. When putting on the tyres you used in the previous season, you have to check that the tread is no shallower than 4 mm. If it is, you should consider getting new tyres. Winter tyres with a tread of less than 4 mm will be less effective in channelling water and slush, and will be worse in cleaning themselves of snow.

Tyre pressure in winter driving

Another important issue is tyre pressure, which should be taken care of all year round and should be checked at least once a month.

- In winter, we usually experience large temperature changes. That's why it's especially important to remember to check the tyre pressure more often than in summer- warns Leszek Szafran, Sales Director at Goodyear Group Poland.- In winter conditions, temperature drops cause the tyre pressure to also drop, as compared to the pressure at 20°C.

  • by approx. 0.2 bar at 0°C
  • by approx. 0.3 bar at –10°C
  • by approx. 0.4 bar at –20°C

this impairs their ability to clean the snow.

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The right tyres will ensure a short braking distance and good grip in corners during winter driving season.

Adjusting the pressure according to current load is impossible, as is adjusting it to changing temperatures. When very low temperatures persist for some time, it is recommended to increase the pressure by 0.2 bar. One should remember, however, to decrease the pressure to the level recommended by the vehicle’s manufacturer once the temperature rises again. We always recommend you use the pressure recommended by the manufacturer for a given car model. All information concerning the pressures may be found in your car's manual (usually kept in the glove compartment) or on a sticker attached to the side of the door or the inside of the fuel tank's cap - adds Leszek Szafran.

Visibility in winter driving

- The first thing, that the driver should take care of is to see what is happening on the road and to remain visible themselves – advises Romuald Chałas. Windshield heating is very helpful, as it clears and defrosts the windshield and the rear window in a few seconds. The same can be achieved by turning on the ventilation, but it will take longer. Before the fall-winter season, you should also adjust the reach of your wipers. They should reach as close to the pillars as possible, so the dirt-covered part of the window not cleaned by the wipers is as small as possible and does not obstruct the visibility too much.

Clean headlights also increase driving safety. In many cars, the headlights are equipped with wipers and/or washers. If your car doesn't have them, you should remember to clean your headlights with a soft, non-scratching cloth. Dirty or scratched headlights may light the road as much as 40% less effectively than they should.

- You should also remember about your rear lights. They have to be clean and they cannot be painted in a dark colour. In strong, reflecting sunlight, such “enhancement” will make it hard for the drivers behind you to see your braking lights– reminds Romuald Chałas.

Then, there are mirrors. These should be big, clean and easy to adjust. Heated mirrors are good, as they make it much easier to drive, just like heated windshields.

The mirrors are a key element for good visibility. In order for them to serve their purpose well, they have to be adjusted. In a correctly positioned mirror, the driver should only see the edge of their vehicle. Unfortunately, people often position them so that only half of the car is visible. This is a mistake, which limits our control over what happens around us.

Electronic systems and airbags in winter driving

Functioning brakes are a very important element for safe winter driving. They should be checked before the fall-winter season. The even distribution of braking power is the key factor. - If the brakes don’t act evenly when braking on snow or ice, the car can swing and slide - warns Romuald Chałas.

Pulse braking when skidding requires skill, cold blood and experience. Most drivers simply step down on the brake, which locks the wheels and sends the car into an uncontrolled slide with no way of steering. That’s why we have engineers equipping the vehicles with all kinds of electronic systems.

- Braking is supported by ABS, which stops the wheels from locking. It is currently installed in most new cars. But ABS is not everything – adds Romuald Chałas. - When buying a car, you should check if it is equipped with other systems which may come in handy in winter, such as ESP, which stabilises your driving line in corners and ASR, which prevents excessive slip, e.g. when accelerating. A car equipped with these systems will surely be safer than a car without them.

Airbags and side airbags are also very important for safety.

- Usually, manufacturers know how many and what types of airbags they should use in their cars. But it can generally be said, that two airbags – for the driver and for the passenger - are not enough. They help you survive an accident when the car is hit from the front or the back. But in any side collision, even a seemingly harmless accident may have serious consequences. That’s why having side airbags in you car is a good idea - adds Romuald Chałas.

In the event of an accident, active headrests and seat belts with locking mechanisms are also very important. The first solution locks or pushes forward on impact to prevent whiplash spine injury. The second one tightens the belt around you to prevent slipping from under the belt or hitting your head on the steering wheel or the windshield.

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Common sense and taking care of your car’s equipment will help get you safely through winter driving season.

Aerodynamics and reinforcements in winter driving

The manufacture of the car, even though it’s invisible process and impossible to be checked by an average driver, is also a huge safety factor. Proper body aerodynamics will provide better grip at higher speeds, and precisely shaped windows will make the airstream help you clean the mud or water from them. These elements can, however, be tested only in a wind tunnel, so they can hardly be used as a criterion when choosing a car.

But you can check if the car's pillars are narrow and moved forwards to make the dead zone smaller, and whether the side doors are reinforced on the inside. Such reinforcement is used more and more frequently, as it can efficiently protect both the driver and the passengers from the side impact. - The last element worth a closer look as far as safety is concerned are the crumple zones. Thousands of people worldwide owe their lives and health to the invention and implementation of this feature. Cars manufactured in the last 10 years or so are manufactured in such a way as to transfer the impact of a crash to such parts as longerons, and not to the people inside the car. Crumple zones are always there to save lives, but especially in winter, when the risk is higher, their importance grows even more - Romuald Chałas sums up.

Some of the elements listed above, that enhance the safety of the driver and the passengers depend on choosing a better equipped car and, as a result, your wallet. But not all of them. Installing good winter tyres, inspecting the brakes and adjusting your wipers can and should be in a September or October schedule of every reasonable driver. And cleaning your windows and headlight, as well as checking your tyre pressure have to be added to the list of important tasks, such as shopping or driving your kid to school.

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