Tips for safe driving in winter

In winter, certain safety aspects must be taken into account, as drivers must expect black ice and snow at any time. Especially at temperatures around the freezing point, one should be particularly careful because the road surface can change quickly [1]. From a German survey, it is known that every third driver thinks that he does not have to adjust the safety distance to the weather conditions [2]. On a snowy road, the stopping distance increases 3 to 4 times during emergency braking. This can be problematic especially for elderly drivers, whose reaction time slowly deteriorates over time.

What can you do before driving to stay safe on the road in winter?

  • In wintry conditions, it is recommended to use winter tyres (M & S marking). Please note that in some European countries winter tyres are mandatory.

  • To guarantee a continued good braking performance on wet or snow-covered roads, winter tyres must have sufficient tread depth [3] (for example, in Austria, this is at least 4 mm). Please note, the lower the tread depth, the longer the braking distance.

  • Especially in winter, it is essential to maintain the windscreen wiper system, including the wiper blades regularly. Accordingly, the windscreen washer system should be filled and contain enough antifreeze fluid to not freeze at low temperatures.

  • Snow and ice should always be completely removed from all windows, mirrors and headlights before driving. The roof of the car must also be cleared of snow. Otherwise, there is a risk that snow will slide onto the windshield during sudden braking, obstructing visibility. Following cars must also not be endangered by swirling up snow residues.

  • Recommended items in the vehicle are an ice scraper and a snow broom for a car, a de-icing spray could be helpful as well. Lukewarm water can also be used to remove ice. Attention: never use boiling water to avoid damaging plastic or rubber parts or electronics!

  • It is recommended that shoes are free of snow as well to avoid the risk of slipping on the pedals.

  • Under no circumstances should a vehicle be warmed up by starting the engine in an enclosed area, such as a garage. There is a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning [4] !

What should be considered while driving?

  • To be safe on the road in winter conditions, an even more distance to the vehicle in front is necessary, as a significantly longer braking distance is to be expected on snow and ice. Under snowy conditions, it is 3 to 4 times as long and on ice even 8 times as long as on dry roads [5] .

  • As a general rule, you should drive slowly, depending on the road conditions. Speed limits indicate the maximum speed under ideal road conditions; for more challenging conditions, the speed limit can often be too high. Not only braking, but also steering, accelerating and shifting should therefore be done carefully.

  • To get a feeling for the road conditions, it is recommended to carry out brake tests on an open road, provided this can be done safely [1] .

  • On snow and ice, the vehicle should always be driven at lower revs to prevent the tyres from spinning and to develop better grip [1] . Accordingly, shift to a higher gear as early as possible.

  • When driving while it is snowing and visibility is impaired, the dimmed headlights should be used so that the vehicle is clearly visible to other road users. · There is no adhesion between the tyre and the road in the case of black ice [1] . If possible, stop driving and wait for the road service.

  • Caution is also advised under bridges, as – due to differences in temperature – there often are isolated patches of frost or ice after most of the road has already thawed [6] .







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