Before working at Business Vehicle Tracking, I spent my winters working in a number of ski resorts across Europe, driving customers to and from the airport and quickly learnt that driving in the snow in the UK is nothing compared to driving in the mountains of Switzerland or France. 5cm of snow in the UK brings us to a halt, 1 foot of snow overnight in the Alps and its business as usual! You get in your vehicle drive to the airport and come back. The journey may be twice as long, however no gridlock, no sleeping in your vehicle overnight and far fewer weather related accidents, especially when compared to the UK.
European roads and vehicles are far more prepared for the winter and the infrastructure they have in place for main roads and airports puts the UK to shame. I witnessed 4 gritter lorries on one road, two pushing the snow off the road and the other 2 spreading huge amounts of salt and apparently, this is standard practice. There are however, things that you can do in the UK that can potentially save lives and avoid accidents. Just completing simple checks before setting off could save many lives and avoid unnecessary pile-ups on the roads:
- Make sure your vehicle is clear of snow – How often do you see vehicles driving with several inches of snow on the roof? The windscreen’s clear so everything is ok, right? No! If you have to heavy brake the snow on the roof could slide down onto your windscreen blocking your view and making it extremely dangerous. The weight could stop windscreen wipers working and if you are travelling at high speeds this could be potentially life threatening. Make sure all snow has been cleared.
- Winter-proof your windscreen - With all the salt and dirt on the road, you get through so much screen wash when out on the roads, so take extra care to ensure they are working and that you have plenty of anti-freeze de-icer fluid. It’s always sensible to keep spare reserves in the car too. Once during an airport run in Switzerland, I didn’t check before the journey and, of course, ran out. My windscreen was so filthy I had to stop, get out of the car and rub snow on the windscreen to clear it until we came to a garage. I can assure you, my passengers weren’t too pleased about stopping every few miles!
- Think about where you park overnight - If you know it’s going to drop below 0° overnight think about where you are going to park your vehicle. If you can put it under shelter then do so as this will save you having to de-ice your vehicle. Also avoid having to reverse out of tight spots. When you park up at night in winter, you should always ensure your first trip in the morning is an easy getaway.
- Make sure your tyre pressures are correct - Lack of grip can cause you to skid on the winter roads and you want to be confident that if you need to heavy brake, your car will respond as expected. You could even invest in a Tyre Pressure monitor, like this one from Maplin to ensure you’re always meeting regulations http://www.maplin.co.uk/wireless-tyre-pressure-monitoring-system-390208.
- Keep your vehicle in a high gear - If you drive in a low gear (i.e 1 or 2) you will cause the vehicle to wheel spin when pushing your foot down. Use 3 or 4 and crawl around dangerous roads and up hills. You will be surprised how much easier it is to get around.
- Make sure you can see through your misty windscreen – It is common sense all year round to make sure you have optimum visibility whilst driving, but it is especially important during the winter months. Low light levels and difficult conditions make even a short journey with a partially obstructed view, treacherous. Using the air-con will clear your windscreen much quicker than a normal heater.
- React properly when skidding - If you find yourself skidding on ice and you don’t have and an ABS (Anti-Lock Braking System) in your vehicle, take your foot off the brake. It seems a silly thing to say however if you keep your foot on the brake you will continue to slide & your wheels will fail to turn. Take your foot off and try and gain control of your car. Once this has been achieved, pump your brakes until you come to a standstill.
I hope the above will help you all out on the road this winter, drive carefully and stay safe!