Saturday, 27 November 2010

Driving in snow and ice (nothing to do with IT at all!)

The weather is very cold and the country is being covered in snow, but business still goes on.

Some tips for driving in snow and ice are given here – with no warranties or guarantees! These are based on my own experiences of driving in many different countries - including at two Winter Olympics.

Before getting in the car, think about it. Do you really need to be going out in this weather? It’s not only safer at home – it’s a lot warmer.


1.    What do you need to take with you?

a.    Breakdown company number - and a charged mobile phone

b.    Jump leads, if you have them

c.    Shovel

d.    Rope

e.    Warm clothes

f.    Walking boots & socks

g.     Chocolate bar – in case you get hungry while waiting for rescue, or as a reward once you get there safely.

h.    Bottled water. This is very useful for windscreen cleaning if your windscreen washer freezes. Don’t leave the bottled water in the car though, or it’ll also freeze.

2.    Before you set off

a.    Clear the snow and ice from the whole car, including taking the bulk of snow off the roof with a brush – otherwise it may come loose suddenly as you drive along and take off your rear wiper

b.    Scrape the ice off all windows to give you the best possible vision.

c.    Remember to scrape the ice off the headlights, indicators and especially brake lights.

d.    If you do use water to clear the windscreen, use cold water rather than hot. For technical reasons hot water poured onto a frozen windscreen will freeze very quickly, whereas cold water doesn’t freeze so quickly. (Very hot water can crack the windscreen too).

e.    DON’T leave the car running to warm up on it’s own. If it is stolen with the keys in the ignition, the insurance won’t pay out.

f.     If the door is frozen don’t use water to unfreeze it as the water will simply freeze again and stick the door more solidly shut next time. Use de-icer or WD40.

g.    To start the car make sure no power is being used (lights, radio, etc), ensure it’s in neutral, depress the clutch fully, keep off the accelerator and start the car. If it doesn’t start straight away don’t keep turning the engine or pumping the accelerator. You’ll firstly run the battery down very quickly and secondly flood the engine with petrol. Depress the accelerator 2 inches, hold it there, and try again. Be patient.

h.     Be sure that your tyre pressures are correct and that your tyres are in good condition.


3.    Once underway

a.    Use your dipped beam headlights as many other drivers will have very limited vision because they haven’t bothered to fully clear their windows. Remember, headlights are more for you to be seen than for you to see.

b.    Anticipation is absolutely critical. Look as far ahead as possible and realise what is happening way up ahead, so that you have a much greater reaction time than usual.

c.    Keep your distance. You have a much greater stopping distance, even though you’re going more slowly.

Actually driving in snow and ice is much the same as the way you should drive all the time. However, we are all lazy and poorly trained in everyday driving, so some thought has to be given to driving in icy conditions.

When driving you use only 4 actions:

1.    Steering

2.    Accelerating

3.    Braking

4.    Changing Gear

5.    (Singing along to the radio doesn’t count)

When driving you should be doing only one of these actions at any one time. This is really difficult to get used to, but vital in snow and ice driving. This means that you must anticipate what is happening ahead, to ensure you are going at the correct speed for the whole of a corner for instance, so that you do not need to brake while also steering around the corner.

The easiest way to get used to this is to practice when conditions are good. Try saying to yourself, “Steer steer steer” the whole time you are steering anywhere other than straight ahead.

When braking say, “Brake brake brake”; when changing gear say, “Gear gear gear” and when accelerating say, “Faster faster faster”. You can only say one thing at a time, so you can only be carrying out one action at a time.

This is important because skidding in snow and ice mostly happens because you are changing speed and direction at the same time, (braking or accelerating while taking a corner).

The other important thing to remember is to be gentle in everything you do. Any aggressive or harsh driving at all will end in tears. Again, anticipation is key.

The two biggest mistakes people make, when the car first slips on the ice, are:

a.    To accelerate. The feeling is to get through the problem, but sadly this will definitely make things worse as the tyres will lose grip.

b.    To brake. Obviously this is to avoid the problem, but again may make things worse. If you must brake do so very gently. Pumping the brake pedal can be useful if done so gently.


4. Skidding?

If you do skid, people talk about steering into the skid or steering out of the skid. What on earth are they on about? Who cares? You haven’t the time to work out whether you’re in a front wheel, rear wheel or 4 wheel skid. Forget it!

Instead take all of your hands and feet off everything. Honestly! If you brake or accelerate at all the skid will get worse. If you throw the steering wheel all over the place the skid will get worse. God forbid you should attempt to change gear when skidding. Take all your hands and feet away and the car will try to sort things out as it will naturally slow down and straighten up.

As soon as you feel that the worst of the skid is over, and assuming you haven’t yet hit anything, gently steer towards where you’d prefer to be going. If you do have to brake do so very very gently. This is much simpler than pumping the brakes (known as “cadence braking” which some people suggest – and which ABS brakes do automatically.)

Good luck!
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