It has been snowing for a few hours in northern Virginia. This means that the traffic chaos is reaching exciting levels because nobody seems to know how to drive in light snow. It took me almost 2 hours to complete a fifteen mile round trip to drop Laura at the metro station, and even on that short (and slow) journey we saw about a half a dozen crashes, and a couple of abandoned cars pulled over at the roadside. I ask you, who pulls over to sit it out when there is less than an inch of snow on the ground?
Drivers seem to lose all common sense, and in sweeping general terms they fall into 3 catagories:
- “I’ve got 4wd I drive an SUV” – These people believe that the weight and 4wd capabilities of their vehicles will allow them to drive at normal speeds in snow and ice. They seem to be lacking the obvious knowledge that sure 4wd and weight may help you gain traction to get up to speed, but it also means you’re carrying more momentum and mass when you try and stop. They’ll be the ones tailgating you, then sliding past you and spinning into intersections when they realise they can’t stop and lock up all the wheels.
- “I need reassurance, I’ll drive at 5mph and phone a friend” – These people are in any type of car, but are normally found in mini-vans or huge SUVs. They are nervous, and drive as if the road is sheet ice regardless of conditions. They also were never taught that you need momentum to get up hills, and so will frequently be found sliding hopelessly on slopes when their luck runs out. They also tend to slam on their brakes at random times, like when they see a spray of snow across their path. This makes them even more likely to skid and slip off the road or out of their lane, especially as they can’t steer with one hand clutching a phone to their ear.
- “My pick-up truck is unstoppable” – These people are usually men driving large pick-up trucks or work vans. Their vehicles are massive, heavy, and unfortunately rear-wheel drive. If they had a load in the back when the snow started they’ll be tailgating like morons but if they had an empty truck bed they’ll have discovered a bigger problem, the engine is over the unpowered front wheels, and the empty bed is over the drive wheels! With this setup they spin and spray snow as they try and put power down, and woe betide you if you’re alongside them at a junction because they spin sideways just as easily as they don’t move forwards.
So here are my easy tips for safer driving in snow. Please note these are just my personal beliefs and findings, if you’ve got other tips, or think I’m wrong, leave me a comment.
- Leave more space between you and the vehicles around you – This is common sense, if you need to take more time to brake and might skid, leave a bigger gap so you’ve got time to recover from any issues.
- Keep a consistent speed. This one is tricky, you don’t want to go too fast or you’ll have problems stopping or steering and are more likely to skid. However, you also don’t want to go too slowly, otherwise you’ll lose traction on inclines, and not have enough momentum to drive through/over ridges of snow.
- Don’t brake unless you need to – Use the engine as a brake when possible, and let the snow slow your car down, when you brake you risk skidding, just gently losing speed is much safer, and also means you’re less likely to accidently stomp the brake and cause a skid.
- Remember snow is softer than cars – if it does all go wrong, try and avoid solid objects. Snow is a very effective brake, and in an emergency you can apply full lock in the direction away from a solid object and allow the snow to plough up against your wheels, this will stop you very effectively and guide you away from a crash.
- Practice – This one is the most important and the most fun. Find a large empty space, car parks are ideal, and play in the snow. The best way to learn what to do when your car slides is to slide it in a safe place. Keep the speed low, but play with the pedals and different degrees of input at the wheel. Every car handles slightly differently in the snow, and automatic gearboxes can be very frustrating as they engage the power somewhat unpredictably. If you’ve got the time and the budget, take a professional training course, most race circuits have advanced driving schools, or skid-pan training courses available.
For more hints, check out Weather.com’s Driving Safety tips
As an aside, regardless of the weather I’m smiling because I’ve just read that Red Dwarf will be back for an Easter 2 part special!