Munich - Anti-freeze: check. Winter tyres: check. When the first snowfall comes along, the vehicle is usually well prepared – but drivers often are not, as spikes in levels of road congestion and bodywork damage amply prove year after year in the first few days of frost and sleet. Hectic festive timetables only make the problem worse. TÜV SÜD’s experts have tips on safe, secure driving in the winter cold.
“Winter hits hard with over 20 accidents in two hours” is a common headline that seems to recur every year. The reasons are clear: too little distance between vehicles, excessive speeds, dithering, drivers’ overestimation of their abilities, many drivers still using summer tyres despite the legal requirement to change to winter tyres as soon as winter conditions hit the roads. Chaos rules the roads when the first snowflakes fall, with miles of congestion and accidents bringing traffic to a standstill. And if a bout of frost coincides with public holidays, road conditions become even more crowded – and road safety an even more critical issue. A tip from TÜV SÜD’s experts: practice is the key to overcoming insecurity on the roads in winter conditions. “Once the snow comes, it is useful to find an empty car park and practise driving manoeuvres to get used to the way the car reacts in slippery conditions. Simply testing brake response at a low speed is usually enough to give a feeling of security”, advises Eberhard Lang from TÜV SÜD. Be sure to check your rear mirror before testing the brakes!
Smart planning: When roads are icy, road safety plunges – and the reasons are all down to physics. Any mistakes made by drivers are ruthlessly magnified, often resulting in a crash. When conditions are so hazardous, it is well worth thinking hard about whether your trip is really necessary, perhaps combining routes to avoid unnecessary travel and avoiding rush-hours.
Keep your distance: When roads suddenly turn icy, the first essential action is to increase your distance from other road-users. Note that a distance of ‘half the speedo’ is not enough when conditions are severe. The greater your distance from the vehicle in front, the more time you have to react in an emergency. To establish this distance, never brake wildly or accelerate; instead, reduce your speed gradually, applying the brake pedal with care, to avoid endangering the traffic behind you.
Stay cool: Dramatic swings of the wheel and over-eager acceleration only increase your danger of skidding. Always reduce your speed before going into corners, and steer in and out of bends evenly and smoothly. Moderation is also the watchword where speed is concerned; stay at a steady speed when taking the bend. If the wheels lose grip despite these precautions, cautiously reduce speed to regain grip as fast as possible. If your car has an ABS anti-locking system, you can brake as usual; the electronic assistant will maintain and optimise grip. The same applies if the car threatens to go into a spin; if the car skids off-course the ABS system will safely brake its progress, avoiding major damage.
Skilful braking: Braking distances increase significantly when roads are icy. The best procedure for slowing down is not only to apply the brake, but also to use engine braking – taking into consideration whether the vehicle is a front- or rear-wheel drive. Most modern cars have ABS, which automatically prevents wheel blocking. If an ABS car still goes into a skid, continue braking until the tyres regain grip. Drivers of vehicles without ABS should avoid blocking the wheels at all costs!
Make the right choice:When snow or ice comes on suddenly, remember that motorways and main roads will be cleared first of all. TÜV SÜD's experts recommend keeping to major roads and avoiding byways.