Winter Driving: Staying Safe on Icy and Snowy Roads
Every year, wintry weather poses challenges for drivers. It begins with dropping temperatures and light frost in the mornings. Snow and ice make roads slippery, and poor visibility due to fog, precipitation, or the low sun adds to the difficulty. Early darkness further exacerbates the dangers. At CARIFY, we wish you safe travels even in winter. To ensure you're well-prepared, we've put together six valuable tips to help you master winter driving.
1. Vehicle Preparation
Yesterday, a mild autumn sun was shining, but today, as you step out of the house, your car windows are covered in ice. Just when you're in a hurry. You quickly scrape a tiny peephole and start the car, thinking the heater will take care of the rest. It's better not to! It's even a requirement that you have unobstructed visibility through all windows while driving in winter (and summer). This is crucial for spotting other road users in time and avoiding accidents. Before you set off, you must clear all windows (front, rear, and sides) as well as the side mirrors of ice.
If your car is covered in snow, it's not enough to just clear the windows. If you drive off with a thick layer of snow on your roof, it can detach due to the wind or braking and hit cars behind you. If it's icy, it can act like a projectile. Therefore, before starting your journey, you must completely remove all ice and snow from your car. A special snow brush is as essential as an ice scraper.
Tip: Ice scrapers with integrated gloves prevent your fingers from freezing during the process and provide a better grip.
Since you can expect frost and precipitation at any time, you should wake up at least 10 minutes earlier in winter and leave the house. This way, you have enough time to de-ice your car. Before you set off, as always, check your vehicle's lights. This is especially important in winter. Top up windshield washer fluid if necessary.
Essential for winter driving are tires designed for low temperatures. These can be all-season tires or dedicated winter tires. You can recognize them by the symbol of a three-peaked mountain with a snowflake on the tire sidewall. If you live in regions with heavy snowfall, dedicated winter tires are the best choice. Their tread is optimized for winter road conditions with snow and ice.
The softer rubber compound provides better grip and shortens the braking distance. Even though there is currently no winter tire requirement in Switzerland, using unsuitable tires can lead to a loss of insurance coverage or partial fault in the event of an accident. As a rule of thumb, consider using winter tires between November 1 and March 31.
On heavily icy or snow-covered roads, studded tires provide even better grip. In Switzerland, you can use them between early November and late April, as long as you avoid highways and main roads and don't exceed 80 km/h. Note: Studded tires are prohibited in many neighboring countries like Germany. So, if you plan to travel abroad, check the applicable regulations beforehand.
2. Adjust Your Driving Behavior
Visibility is often limited when driving in winter.
Pedestrians and cyclists are difficult to spot in the darkness. Additionally, ice, snow, or gravel can make the road slippery, significantly extending the braking distance, which can be up to five times longer than on dry, warm roads. Therefore, it's crucial to reduce your speed.
Maintain a sufficient distance from other road users and be prepared for sudden braking maneuvers by vehicles in front of you. When speed and following distance are adjusted accordingly, you can bring your car to a stop in time if necessary. Exercise extra caution when temperatures hover around freezing. In some places, the ground can be significantly colder, leading to alternating dry and icy patches. When it comes to black ice, if the road is continuously covered with reflective ice, it's best to leave your car parked.
3. Proper Technique for Slippery Conditions
In the city, snow on the road is usually cleared quickly. It's also a few degrees warmer there than in less populated areas, resulting in less frequent road icing. However, as soon as you leave the urban canyons, the situation changes dramatically. You should be aware of this and, ideally, when no one is following you, conduct a brake test.
This way, you can effectively assess the road's slipperiness and adjust your speed accordingly. If you're having trouble starting due to slippery conditions causing wheel spin, try starting in second gear. Low-speed driving with minimal throttle provides better tire traction. If you're driving an automatic transmission vehicle, it's best to avoid the sport mode in winter.
If you still lose control on icy roads while driving in winter, react calmly. Never make abrupt steering movements. Instead, disengage the engine and brake gently. At the same time, respond quickly to the skid and steer gently in the opposite direction. In modern vehicles, systems like ABS and ESP assist in regaining control of your car. If your car is about to skid off a curve, firmly press the brake and hold it for a moment. Simultaneously, steer gently. A driving safety training will provide you with the necessary experience to stay calm and take the right steps in emergencies.
4. Carry Emergency Equipment
A warning triangle, vest, and first aid kit are mandatory throughout the year. In winter, you should expand your emergency kit with additional useful items. These will help you in case you get stranded in sub-zero temperatures or your car won't start.
Blanket, sleeping bag, extra warm clothing
Granola bars, thermos with a hot drink
Shovel, snow brush, and ice scraper
De-icer, windshield washer fluid
Hand-crank flashlight (dynamo)
There is no snow chain requirement in Switzerland. The exception, according to Article 29 of the Road Signalization Ordinance, applies to routes where a road sign prescribes snow chains for multi-lane motor vehicles. This includes cars, trucks, and three-wheeled vehicles. In such cases, you must fit snow chains made of metal or another material approved by ASTRA to two of the drive wheels on one axle before continuing your journey.
It's a good idea to familiarize yourself with how to use them in advance. Snow chains also provide better traction on snow-covered roads, making them an essential part of your winter emergency equipment. You should not drive faster than 50 km/h with them.
5. Monitor Weather and Traffic Conditions
In winter, always exercise increased vigilance. Weather conditions can change rapidly, especially in the mountains. You can set off under bright sunshine and suddenly find yourself in a snowstorm.
Pay attention to warning signs and tune in to the radio for traffic updates. This way, you'll know if heavy traffic or even a traffic jam awaits you ahead. Always keep an eye on the traffic in front of you, so you can react to changing conditions in a timely manner.
6. Trust Your Gut Feeling
The often-mentioned gut feeling warns us of dangers that we may not consciously perceive. In winter, you're wise to listen to it and drive more cautiously. This is especially important when you're on the road with poor visibility and only spot obstacles late.
By the way, in fog and snow with visibility less than 50 meters, a speed limit of 50 km/h applies as a general rule. If you still don't feel confident, it's better to reduce your speed. And if you're feeling tired, it's best to take a break.
Conclusion: Better Safe than Sorry
Winter driving presents challenges for both drivers and vehicles. Proper preparation helps you navigate through snow and ice safely. This includes having the right equipment and a car that's optimally equipped for winter. When on the road, you must be especially attentive and respond quickly but calmly to changing conditions. Popular car brands like Skoda, Nissan, and Hyundai offer a range of models designed to handle winter weather effectively, providing drivers with options to enhance their safety during the colder months.
Tip: CARIFY's subscription cars are always well-prepared for winter driving thanks to regular maintenance and seasonal tire changes. And it won't cost you anything extra.
How do I drive correctly in winter?
When driving in winter, you need to be particularly cautious and drive defensively. Adjust your driving style to the road conditions and traffic so that you can react in a timely manner and bring your vehicle to a stop even with the extended braking distance. Maintain a greater following distance from the vehicle in front.
How do you drive a car in winter?
Allocate time to prepare your car for winter driving before starting your journey. This includes clearing the vehicle of snow and ice. While winter tires are not mandatory, they will get you to your destination more safely and reduce braking distance on slippery roads. That's why at CARIFY, we always equip our vehicles with the optimal tires for the season.
How fast should you drive in winter?
With adjusted speed; this rule applies even more when driving in winter. This means reducing your speed in icy and/or low visibility conditions to ensure you have time to react. Be especially mindful of the up to five times longer braking distance. Instead of pushing the maximum speed limit, it's better to listen to your gut feeling. It's better to arrive late than never!