How to drive in snow

  • Author: OPONEO.CO.UK

Joseph Lambert, who heads the Goodyear assessment and research centre in Colmar-Berg in Luxembourg, knows perfectly every hardship that a driver may face on winter roads. He is responsible for over 200 test drivers and engineers, who drive more than ten thousand kilometres every year, in any season, in all kinds of weather conditions, sometimes extremely harsh. His knowledge is thorough and backed up by many years of experience and here he answers for us how to drive in snow.

What do you consider the hardest when driving in snow?

Joseph Lambert: Skilful management of severe weather conditions is surely the biggest challenge. In a few minutes, road conditions can become unstable, and the surface slippery. Drivers are often faced with sudden changes in road conditions, when the surface is covered with soft snow in one place, hard ice in the other, just to become wet and slushy somewhere else. Freezing rain or snowfall cause numerous accidents and injuries. But it is enough for the driver to observe some basic rules and to learn some fundamental techniques to increase their safety, and the safety of their family, in harsh winter conditions.

What was your worst experience when driving in snow?

Joseph Lambert: It’s hard to recall a single incident, but all of these experiences have a common denominator: people do not adjust their driving style according to the road and weather conditions in winter. Excessive speed combined with slow reaction may become fatal. Also, cars, trucks and buses often use summer tyres when driving on snow or ice. Many people still don’t realize the colossal benefits of winter tyres.

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Skilful management of severe weather conditions is surely the biggest challenge.

How important are winter tyres?

Joseph Lambert: Summer tyres are not suitable for driving in harsh European winters. Especially in northern and eastern European countries, as well as in Alpine regions, winter can become very severe. If you live and drive in such regions, you should really equip your car with good winter tyres. By improving traction, grip and driving precision, winter tyres significantly enhance driving safety on snow, slush or ice. They also improve steering and stability. You should, however, avoid using different kinds of tyres, with different treads or sizes.

What would be your first advice about how to drive in snow?

Joseph Lambert: Before you start driving, as well as during your trip, I always recommend checking the weather forecast and listening to a radio station broadcasting road news and reports. If there is a weather warning, it is better to postpone your trip until the weather gets better.

Secondly, clean any ice and snow from your car, and don’t drive with snow on your roof, headlights or windows.

Before you start driving, realize that driving in winter requires patience and experience. You should definitely drive slower. You should avoid changing lanes and unnecessary overtaking. In order to stay in control of your car, you should really avoid abrupt turning or braking. Your driving should be fluid, and you should always look ahead. You have to predict new situations in order to react as soon as possible. You always have to think ahead!

What can a driver do when visibility gets worse?

Joseph Lambert: While driving in the fog or blizzard, the best thing to do is to slow down and adjust your speed to the conditions. If the visibility become really bad, you should turn on your fog lamps. But don't forget to turn them off when the visibility gets better. You shouldn’t accelerate abruptly, even if you think that the weather improves - patches of fog often drift, and the visibility may suddenly become almost zero again.

And what can we do if the road is covered with ice or slush?

Joseph Lambert: When driving on a slippery or icy road, you should remember to keep a greater distance between cars. Tests have shown, that this distance should be three times greater than in summer. These additional metres are needed to brake safely. I always tell the drivers, that if the road surface is slippery, all manoeuvres should be gentle and calm, without sudden braking and accelerating, as this may cause skidding.

If the car has ABS (the system that stops brakes from blocking), you don’t have to pulse brake. You should brake gently and don’t do any sudden movements with your steering wheel. On ice-covered roads or while descending, I would also recommend you shift down your gear sooner than usual, while gently pressing your brake - this is the safest way to reduce your speed.

What are the most hazardous situations when driving in snow?

Joseph Lambert: The most dangerous places are bridges, hills, corners, pedestrian crossings and intersections with traffic lights. Their surfaces become slippery first, and remain hazardous even when other roads seem to be OK. Drivers should be especially wary when driving near lakes or through forests: Higher humidity in such places makes them more dangerous. You should also be careful when going from a sunny stretch of road into a shade. The road may be icy. Temperatures between 0 and 3 degrees Celsius make for one of the most dangerous situations. The roads may seem to be in good condition, but the temperature near the ground may actually fall below zero and the surface may remain icy.

Thank you for the interview.

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