Rules of thumb because driving responsibly and to condition is your competency training!
- Keep speed as low as practically possible
- Increase your distance between cars
- Slow right down for corners, junctions and any other hazards
- If travelling long distances, be aware of changing conditions
- along your route
- Get all of your braking done on the straights, never brake during a corner if it can be avoided
- Be prepared for under-steer and over-steer, and know how to correct when necessary
- Be prepared to use ABS or avoidance braking techniques
- Top up washer fluids and antifreeze
- Select ‘snow’ mode if available on automatic transmissions, or if an advanced electronic stability control system is fitted
- If you have to climb a slippery hill, ensure the top is clear before starting the ascent
- Use a good snow forecast app and be prepared
Making the most of available traction is key to winter driving
Making the most of available traction is key to winter driving. Loss of traction can lead to wheelspin under acceleration, wheel-lock under braking and sideways sliding while cornering. There are many automatic stability control systems which can control these actions to a limited extent, however there is no substitute for the correct technique. Investing in a vehicle with ABS is the single most effective method of increasing your safety in slippery conditions, and luckily most modern cars have this as standard. Traction control systems can control wheel spin, but bear in mind that these technologies are reactive, which means you will already be in a certain amount of trouble before they start to operate. It’s much better to avoid the problems to start with, and this is where technique comes in.
Pull away and accelerate gently and progressively
In slippery conditions such as snow and ice, aggressive acceleration is likely to break traction at the driven wheels. The resulting wheelspin can lead to loss of steering control in a front wheel drive (FWD) car, or an oversteer slide in a rear wheel drive (RWD). Both of these situations will prevent you from going in the direction you want and can be difficult to recover from.
Quickly recover from wheel spin
If you do notice wheel-spin or the traction control systems fighting for grip, fight the urge to floor the throttle, and instead back off the gas and then re-apply smoothly. keep the engine speed (rpm) as low as possible Keep a constant low throttle in order to maximize grip. Most diesel engines will cruise along happily in low gears without using any throttle as all.
Reduce torque at the wheels
Change up sooner rather than later, pull away in second gear if possible, and use the highest practical gear at all times. Higher gears reduce torque at the driven wheels and therefore lower the chances of wheel spin – especially important if you need to climb a slippery hill. Keep gear changes as smooth as possible, as it will be easy to spin the wheels in most gears when conditions are really challenging. If you drive an auto, make use of any winter settings at your disposal.
Avoid sudden driver inputs
These can include steering, braking, acceleration or gear changes. You only have a finite level of grip available so try not to overload your tires unnecessarily. Driving smoothly will conserve grip, and make you safer on the roads. Brake soon, and gently If you do not have ABS fitted, be prepared to ease off the brakes when necessary to steer more effectively. Locked front wheels cannot steer!
Make the best use of ABS
If you do have ABS, you’ll be able to tell it has triggered by feeling a pulsing sensation through the brake pedal. If this has occurred do not ‘pump’ the brakes, rather keep a firm pressure on the pedal for maximum effectiveness. ABS is designed to help you steer as you’re slowing down so use this to your advantage and avoid obstacles.
Prevention is better than cure
Even if you do have ABS or traction control systems fitted, don’t get into the habit of using the technology routinely, you’ll be able to slow down in a shorter distance if you use threshold braking techniques.
Use a trailing throttle through corners
Easing off the gas before you enter a corner will transfer some weight to the front wheels, helping to increase traction where it’s needed.
Carry speed up slopes
Demands on your tires increase dramatically up hills. You need to carry a suitable amount of momentum to make it to the top. As you do approach the brow of the hill, ease off the throttle and come to a gentle halt.
Control speed down slopes
Keep your speed down from the top of a hill, don’t expect to be able to scrub off much speed on the way down. Think well ahead and prepare for the next hazard.
Observation and anticipation
No matter how skillful you are, there’s no substitute for thinking ahead. If you’re in familiar areas, anticipate what’s coming up, and if you’re not in a place you know well, then expect hazards around every corner.