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Winter driving

Recently I was asked to be on the radio and answer some questions about driving in this wonderful winter weather that we’re seeing here in Ireland. Unfortunately I couldn’t make the show as I was then in Texas, so the time difference meant I would have been sleeping when the show was to air. However, I figured eventually that perhaps it would be a good idea to put some things down in print for my fellow drivers…

Preparing yourself

First of all if you yourself isn’t prepared to be out in cold weather, it kind of speaks for itself, don’t go out. Consider if your vehicle breaks down and you are stuck on the side of the road until you can get help. Dress appropriately. Try to layer clothing as the air pockets between each layer will help as it acts as insulation. Good shoes, decent gloves and something to keep your throat warm all helps. If you’re out during dawn and dusk, also have a reflex somewhere on your clothing. Being seen is being smart.

Ladies, you look great in your high heels. Seriously, we men love you in them. Your ankles will hate you though if you slip. It’s not very fashionable wearing a cast. Shoes with decent soles you can find that still look good so you don’t need to compromise on your looks, nor your safety.

Preparing your vehicle

There’s a few things you should make sure before you start your trip. Well, perhaps not so few, but hey …

Make sure you have enough coolant and windscreen wash in your car. Make sure they have the right mix for the weather. Nothing like your radiator blowing up thanks to ice in the pipes on a cold day.

Get an ice scraper for the car. Before you set off, hop in the car and start it. Have full blast up on the windscreen. Turn your lights on. Get out and close the door. Scrape off the head lights and brake lights (excellent time to check your lights work!). Scrape of all the windows. Seriously, all of them, not just a bit on the windscreen. DO NOT USE HOT WATER unless you enjoy driving without a windscreen in this weather (and if you do, just get a convertible!). Now, when you hop back into the car, it should have started to warm up, so you no longer need to blast the windscreen with air, right?

Driving

This is the meat of this post, really. If you have followed the above, you’re somewhat prepared, but only somewhat. First of all, I’d like to remind people that there are some things that are standard on any car these days. Those include indicators and mirrors. Please, use them appropriately.

First things first. You’re probably used to driving on dry roads and sometimes on wet roads. Driving on ice and snow is completely different. It makes each move you do much more “interesting” …

One thing NOT to do is to break and turn at the same time. Always, always, always break when you’re travelling in a straight line. If you’re on ice and turn and break at the same time you’ll spin out. Needless to say, do that at speed and you’ll be happy not to hit anything and end up with a sudden stop.

Taking off from a stand still is easy folks. If your wheels start to lose traction, let up slightly on the accelerator until you regain traction. In that way you will also retain control. If you simply hit the accelerator it may get interesting if you hit a patch which gives you lots of traction all of a sudden. You may then simply launch yourself even faster onto the next patch of ice, where again you have no traction and now you won’t be able to control the vehicle any more. Not the best move possible, eh?

A rule of thumb when driving on icy or snowy roads is to have the vehicle in a higher gear. This will give you more control over the vehicle as you are then also having slower revs on the engine, while having a lot of power coming down to the wheels.

If you can imagine it, try to drive like you would have an egg under the accelerator. Easy on the throttle and no hard pushes. The harder you push the vehicle around, the harder it’ll hit a curb, light pole or even a human.

If you do start spinning, leave the breaks alone, press down the clutch and gently steer out of it. Here’s a video on handling a skid. (Still searching for one that shows how to get out of a spin. Hey! I’m still at work! 🙂 )

I have however found this article: http://www.insideline.com/features/spin-recovery-in-a-front-driver-if-you-spingas-it.html

Distance

Your considerations for distance changes. Well, it should anyway, but judging by how people drive, nobody here has really grasped this, so let’s go through this a tad for you.

Do you know the stopping distance your car has at any given speed, while on dry roads? Probably not. On water that expands quite a lot. On ice, again it grows by a massive margin. Actually, stopping distance on ice is at least 10 times the distance you would have on a dry road. Let me put it like this, in dry conditions, at 50 kmph, you should have enough distance between yourself and the vehicle in front that a whole truck should easily and comfortably be able to fit between you. Doing 100 kmph on the M50 with black ice here and there you should not just fit one, two or three trucks. If you try to brake on ice doing that speed you will travel several hundred meters before you’ve even started to slow down noticeably. Anything between your starting point and your stopping point, well, you figure out where those things will end up …

So, give the guy in front a break and stay well behind. Use your indicators early and change lanes early too. Don’t just swerve in right in front of the car behind you as you change lanes, it means you’ve just stolen their safety net. Slow down early before you get to a crossing, traffic light or entering a roundabout. Someone may suddenly appear there who hasn’t had your foresight and just skids through, all four wheels locked with no chance of stopping. So, don’t put yourself in front of them.

And please, please, please do check your mirrors before you change lane, turn a corner and just in general! You might be surprised with what you find showing up in them! (Like a bus…)

3 second rule

To help you gauge your distance, there is something called the 3 second rule. It has nothing to do with the 3 car rule implemented by certain drivers here. Instead, what you do is while you’re driving you pick something along the road ahead of you. Start counting as the vehicle in front passes that object, “one thousand and one, one thousand and two, one thousand and three” … If the you get to that object before you have finished counting, you are too close to the vehicle in front. This recommendation is for dry conditions. Again, on ice, your stopping distance ten folds in comparison to dry conditions. Yes, I am serious. You don’t believe it, I really do not recommend you trying it out on the roads. Do feel free to go to a course which does “skid tests”, that’s a controlled environment.

Speed

Your speed and distance to other vehicles will determine how well you can get out of any bad situation you may end up in. I think this should be fairly simple to realise, but looking at how close people end up behind each other, I am not surprised to hear of multiple car collisions. On the contrary, I am surprised they do not happen more often.

Consider this, if you are travelling at speeds exceeding 50kmph, you have NO chance of handling a skid. Zero, nil, none. Trust me, I’ve tried and failed, both in controlled and not so controlled environments. I have the whiplash to prove it.

So, do slow down if it seems the road is getting slippy, there’s snow on it or you can see it starting to glitter and glimmer. That last one, it looks very nice during the season of Christmas, but it does mean the road has at least frost on it, more likely patches of ice.

Lights & reflexes

Here’s a pet gripe of mine. People not putting on their headlights in the morning “because I can see fine as it is in this light”… “You utter gobshite” is my response to that. You turn on the headlights so others can see you. Not just the parking lights, they are not meant to be used when you’re driving. You have headlights, use them. NOT BEING SEEN IS WHAT GETS YOU KILLED! This goes for any road user, be it a pedestrian, or a truck. If you’re a pedestrian, put on something with a reflex on. I know, they are hard to find here, for some stupid reason. However, me personally, I’d rather look stupid walking down the road then being smashed to bits on a stretcher. The choice is yours though.

Two wheelers

I love my motorcycle to bits, I really do. If you do not know me, there’s posts on here with what I ride, so trust me I’m not someone on a moped during weekends, alright? However, driving a motorcycle in this weather is akin to suicide. Get on a road with even a few cars on it, hit some black ice and you can say goodnight. Riding motorcycles in decent weather is dangerous as it is, but on ice it’s pure madness.

If you’re on a bicycle, take it damn easy, stay on footpaths or cycle paths because there at least you have some room if you fall. Along the side of the road, squeezed in between cars, busses and the edge of the road is a really bad place to fall over. Before you get to a turn, slow down and try to see if it looks like there is snow or ice in the turn. If there is, try to stop before you get there, and put your bloody feet on the ground to keep you upright.

Pedestrians

For the love of everything that is holy, use the pedestrian crossing and stay the heck off the roads. If cars can’t bloody well stop as it is, you really don’t want to stick your face out around the front of a bus, do you? That also means, if you get off a bus, do not pass the bus on the front! There’s bound to be some muppet overtaking the bus. This won’t be fun if the roads are dry, but now he can’t even stop. So, feel free to walk on the roads, slip in front of cars that cannot stop, if you feel so inclined. I’ll be standing on the footpath, calling 112 so they can come by and sweep you up from the road. Again, you have freedom of choice here…

Conclusions

As in everything in life, you can take on board what you feel like, or you can choose to ignore it. This is your call. However, being someone that has grown up in colder conditions than is seen here, perhaps you should listen. For me to get my license, I had to pass a skid test before I was let out doing the practical, on the road test. Ireland has nothing like this available in the driving test. Heck, the driving test here is still a heck of a lot easier than what I did, disregarding the skid test.

Be prepared of hitting bad roads, icy conditions and in general having to spend time on the roads with lots of people who have no clue how dangerous they really are, and you are likely to be fine. All you can do is try to be as safe as you can be.

The worst present you can give your family is them having to go to hospital to pick you up or identify you. It is Christmas, give them the present of your company this weekend. Be safe.

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