By Shell on Jul. 14, 2022
We’ve all been taught that we should ‘drive to the conditions’ – but what does that precisely mean in the case of rain, ice, snow or fog? Here are five road safety rules to live by in winter.
1. Slow down, hang back
Stopping a car is all about your tyres gripping the road, and when the surface is slippery, they don't grip as well, meaning your car will inevitably take longer to pull up. With that in mind, the simplest way to add some safety margin is to slow down while increasing your distance to the vehicles ahead. This will give you a better view of the road and/or traffic ahead – or a better chance of anticipating having to stop – while adding the extra distance you might need.
The same rule applies in fog. The less you can see, the less time you have to identify dangers ahead, potentially shrinking your available stopping distance in an emergency. Slowing down is the easiest way to give yourself a chance to pull up when you need to.
2. Schedule extra time
Wet roads are slower roads, so your commute is going to take a little longer to accomplish than in the dry. To save yourself running late – and the frustration that could tempt you to speed or take risks – always build some extra time into the schedule whenever the weather turns bad.
3. Know when to stop
In monsoonal rain, a white-out snow scenario or pea-soup fog – or in other words, when you really can't see anything – you're safer to pull over. Just make sure you pick a safe spot, well off the road, and warn other motorists of your presence by leaving your engine running, the lights on and your hazard lights flashing.
Driving through floodwaters is another big no-no. Research has shown that a car can start floating in just 15cm of slow-flowing water, so you're asking for trouble trying to drive through them. Turn around and find another way to your destination.
4. Maintain your tyres
If your tyres are worn or incorrectly pressured, they won't displace the water on the road efficiently and you won't have the roadholding you need, so check your tread depth and pressures regularly (the legal minimum in Australia for the former is 1.5mm; for the latter check your owner's manual).
If you're headed to the snow, pack or hire snow chains – not carrying them is against the law in many alpine areas. Even if you drive an all-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive vehicle exempt from this requirement, you may still need them in heavy snow.
5. Always ensure you can see and be seen
Change worn wiper blades and keep your washer filled with an additive that cuts through the grime (or, if you're snow-bound, doesn't freeze in sub-zero temperatures). Headlights, fog lights and other lighting should be checked regularly and you should never be afraid to flick them on when vision is compromised.
What to do in an emergency
Remember that even light rain can bring oils and other contaminants to the road surface and pose a safety risk. If you do find yourself aquaplaning through a puddle or sliding on oil, try to ease back on the accelerator, gently apply the brakes if needed and focus on steering where you want to go. Avoid sharp steering movements or jumping on the brakes as it could make the situation worse.