Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Tips for Driving on Snow

Snow and ice can create some of the most dangerous driving conditions for drivers of everything from 18-wheelers to motorcyclists. In the event of loss of traction or a spinout on an ice covered road, the vast majority of drivers do not have the necessary training to react quickly enough to avoid a collision. Here are some very basic tips, which may help to reduce the chances of an accident in icy conditions.     

1. Learn from the pros
The most important and effective method for increasing safety, when driving in dangerous conditions, is to get some professional driver training. The reality is that many collision avoidance techniques very often involve learned reactions that are counter-intuitive and opposite to what most of us would instinctively do in the event of a spinout or loss of traction. For example, when a vehicle begins to under-steer and spinout in a corner, most drivers will instinctively turn the steering wheel further in the direction of the corner, or violently swerve in the opposite direction.

This is incorrect, and a professional driver would smoothly steer in the direction of the spin, in order to regain traction as soon as possible. This kind of reaction needs to be programmed through practice, in order to make it an instinctual response to that situation. There is very rarely enough time to think about what to do when this situation actually occurs, and that is why it is so important that a driver re-programs his natural instincts through training.

Many drivers choose not to take an advanced driving course because of the costs involved, but if one considers the potential costs of an accident (vehicle repairs, insurance excess and possibly even hospital bills) a relatively small investment in a driving course is most certainly justified.

2. Don’t get complacent
Advancements in safety technology in modern vehicles have made driving on snow and ice significantly safer. Anti-lock Breaking Systems (ABS), Electronic Breakforce Distribution (EBD) and Electronic Stability Control (ESC) all make driving on slippery roads that much safer. The unfortunate side effect of these technologies is that drivers very quickly start to overestimate the level of traction that is available, and begin to increase speed and enter corners with less caution. Most dangerous spinouts happen when drivers enter a corner at excessive speed and then attempt to correct steering when they feel the vehicle losing traction.

The reality is that no matter how effective these systems may be, they cannot increase traction between the tyres and the road and they cannot help the driver to regain control in the event of a high speed spinout. Never dispense with common sense. Keep speeds as low as possible, enter corners cautiously and when driving on unfamiliar roads, never take anything for granted. Remember; better late than never.

3. Gear up for winter
Arguably, the most effective way to increase safety when travelling on icy roads, is to ensure that your vehicle is adequately prepared for winter conditions. Standard passenger vehicle tyres and even all-weather tyres, offer little to no traction in frozen conditions. Snow tyres – sometimes called winter tyres – are one of the most essential purchases, increasing traction significantly. Visibility is also of paramount importance, as a lack thereof is the cause of hundreds of accidents annually.

Ensure that wiper blades are in good condition and add an anti-icing additive to the window washer spray system. Also ensure that the air-conditioner is functioning and, if your vehicle has a defrost function, that it is working adequately. Clean the windscreen thoroughly and consider coating all windows with a hydrophobic, water-shedding coating, available from most spares shops. If headlight lenses have become pitted, cracked or obscured, replace them and consider protecting them with a clear tape, also now widely available.

Remember, no matter how well equipped your vehicle, or your level of driving skill, accidents as a result of the negligence of other drivers and unexpected variables will always make driving in icy conditions dangerous. Leave lights on at all times to maximise your visibility on the road, never speed and be alert at all times.

Daniel Botha is an experienced who enjoys writing about safety equipment such as rubber matting ireland and the awareness of traffic signs.