Tips For Driving Safely In The Snow

Planning on taking the family out to see the snow? Here are a couple of tips to help you arrive safe and stress-free.
Jason Snyman
2017-08-17
Winter is officially starting to settle in to South Africa, and already, we have felt a few kicks of the bitter cold that comes with the cold fronts.  Snow has already been reported in Lesotho and Matroosberg regions an there is still plenty to come.  We thought we would take a look at how to make sure that you stay safe if you venture off to see the snow or if you take a trip.
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Ensure Your Vehicle Is Roadworthy

Planning on taking your family beyond the wall to capture a white walker? Probably not. In the far-more-likely scenario that that you’re taking a trip down to Nieu-Bethesda to make snow angels with the kids, checking your vehicle is essential. If we get more than two inches of snow today, you may not be able to find your smart car, but when you do; Make sure that your tyres have sufficient tread. If you have winter tyres, now’s the time to use them. Top up on petrol, water and oil. Check your brakes, clutch, lights, battery and windshield wipers. These all need to be in good working order. Keep a set of jumper cables in the car. A good idea is to keep a small shovel and a bag of cat litter or sand for traction should your car become stuck out there. Speaking of litter – don’t make snow angels in a dog park.    

Check Weather Conditions Before You Leave

It should go without saying that nobody should be out there in a blizzard. You may want to go out and see snow, or drive home from work, but check the weather reports before you leave and make sure the roads are clear and passable on your route. Let someone know where you are planning to travel and the route you are taking. A good idea would be to take a couple of warm blankets with you, if at all possible. South African motor vehicles aren’t always well insulated or fitted to deal with extreme cold. Should your car become stuck or stranded in a snowy or cold region, it’s important to keep warm while waiting for assistance. Keep a phone charger or an extra phone battery in your car. Dress appropriately. The secret here is layered clothing with an outer layer that is also water and wind resistant. Snow is wet and the chill-factor of the winds that accompanies snowfall can be freezing. Remember your gloves, hats and scarves as well as warm, sensible shoes and socks. Keep prescribed medications with you. Ensure that you always carry your prescribed medications in case of emergencies and if you are travelling quite some distance from home. Asthmatics, diabetics and cardiac patients are just some of the chronic sufferers that may be at risk if they are unable to access their medication when needed.
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If Your Rear Wheels Skid

Take your foot off the accelerator. Steer in the direction you want the front wheels to go. If your rear wheels are sliding left, steer left. If they're sliding right, steer right. Should your rear wheels start sliding the other way as you recover, ease the steering wheel toward that side. You might have to steer left and right a few times to get your vehicle under control. If you have standard brakes, pump them gently. If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS), do not pump the brakes. Apply steady pressure and you will feel the brakes pulse - this is normal.

If Your Front Wheels Skid

Take your foot off the accelerator and shift to neutral, but don't try to steer immediately. As the wheels skid sideways, they will slow the vehicle and traction will return. As it does, steer in the direction you want to go. Then put the car into a lower gear release the clutch, and accelerate gently.

If You Get Stuck In The Snow

Do not spin your wheels. This will only dig you in deeper. Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way. Use a light touch on the accelerator, to ease your car out. Use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the car. Pour sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels, to help get traction. Try rocking the vehicle. (Check your owner's manual first - it can damage the transmission on some vehicles.) Shift from forward to reverse, and back again. Each time you're in gear, give a light touch on the accelerator until the vehicle gets going.
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Drive Safely

Buckle up. Take it slow. Drive well below the speed limit and accelerate much more slowly than you normally would. Start braking early when you see a stoplight ahead. As fun as snow might be to some – do not drink and drive. Concentrate on the road and your surroundings at all times. Let the passengers do the tweeting. Keep a watch out for black ice, which may look like a harmless puddle. If a road looks slick, the chances are pretty good that it is. Should you need to stop in an emergency, try to avoid sudden braking. Squeeze braking (also known as threshold braking) along with declutching (manual shift) or shifting to neutral (automatic transmission) is the best way of bringing your car to a stop. Regardless of your Vin Diesel-like drifting abilities, icy, snowy conditions are extremely hazardous and you should drive with caution at all times. Do not engage cruise-control in icy areas. Maintain a safe following distance at all times – your cars response is slower because of the ice. Starting off in second gear as opposed to first makes your wheels go a bit slower, and puts more power behind them. This will allow you to power through any snow and ice and prevent wheel spin-out. Try to avoid large or steep hills. If you’re traversing the Drakensberg, you’re in for a bad time. If this is unavoidable, try not to stop. It’s much harder to get going again, and slippage can become a dangerous problem. Lastly, pack that Zombie Apocalypse survival kit you’ve been itching to use. This could include a flashlight, drinking water, non-perishable food, a first-aid kit, a strong rope, and anything else you can imagine you might need. This is supposed to be a fun day. Stay safe out there!
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