Driving in snow poses a unique set of challenges for Northern Ireland drivers, but there are things you can do to help make sure you can complete your journey safely.
(Granite Breakdown is a division of CRASH Servies providing fast and efficient breakdown across NI and ROI.)
Between 22 January and 17 March in 1947, snow fell every single day somewhere in the UK.
However, contrary to popular belief, snow is relatively uncommon in Northern Ireland and the UK as a whole.
Although we dream and sing about a white Christmas, in Northern Ireland, we’ve only had about fifteen white Christmases in the last fifty years.
So, while we might not get a white Christmas, we know from experience that January and February are typically our coldest months of the year.
And it’s in those two months that we’re more likely to experience some snow.
Today, we’re exploring how to drive safely in snow.
Driving in the snow: What you need to know
It’ll come as no surprise to you that driving in the snow is challenging.
In most scenarios in Northern Ireland when snow falls, the MET Office will issue weather warnings and urge drivers only to make absolutely essential journeys.
But if you do have to drive, here’s how you can drive safely in the snow.
Preparation is key.
Before you turn the key in the ignition when there’s snow outside, there are a few essential things you need to do.
Firstly, clear all snow off your car.
This includes the roof, boot and bonnet; snow on either of these could fall on to your windows and affect your safe vision of the road.
Top up your screenwash to avoid dirty, gritty windows that affect your line of vision.
If you have a de-icer, use it on the front, rear and side windows as well as wing mirrors.
Allow extra time for journeys in the snow; if you’re on your way to work or a necessary appointment, the last thing you need is to be late because of slow-moving traffic.
While parked at your house, put your heat on full power and allow your car to heat up before your journey to ensure all windows are condensation-free.
Hope for the best but pack for the worst.
Pack warm clothes in your boot; with sub-zero temperatures, you will need to stay warm if your car breaks down.
Warm clothes should include decent footwear, gloves, a warm coat and a thermal hat.
If you’ve got one, bring a power bank and charger cable too; you don’t want to have a dead phone and end up stranded.
You won’t want your car tyres to spin when they get caught in the snow either, so bring some old carpet, cat littler and a shovel, to create enough traction for your car tyres if they get stuck.
Consider buying winter tyres.
Winter tyres offer extra grip, and if you’re in a hilly or mountainous area that always seems to bear the brunt of icy, snowy weather, then they’re worth considering.
Before driving, check your car tyres.
It’s always good to get into the habit of checking your car tyres before all long journeys, and it’s even more important to check them before driving in the snow.
Make sure all tyres are inflated to the right pressure and make sure they all have at least 3mm of tread.
Look after your car battery.
Our Granite Breakdown rescue team encounters flat batteries often in the Winter.
A car parked for long spells at the house or only used for short journeys won’t perform as well.
Choose your journey wisely.
You won’t be shocked to learn that major roads are better maintained than rural Northern Ireland roads.
Therefore, regardless of whether major roads might take a little longer to get you to your destination, where possible always opt for travelling on major roads such as motorways and dual carriageways instead of country roads.
Top tips for driving in the snow.
- Drive in second gear when pulling off from your driveway.
- Stay in higher gears for better control.
- Slow down – your speed should match the conditions of the road.
- Smoothly does it. All movements when driving in the snow should be taken smoothly: accelerating, braking and steering.
- Keep your distance from other vehicles. Remember, stopping distances can be up to ten times greater in snow.
“Help, my car is stuck in the snow!”
Don’t panic; there are a few tried-and-tested ways to become unstuck.
Firstly, turn your steering wheel full circle in both directions so that your tyres push snow out of the way.
Secondly, if the wheels are spinning, resist the urge to keep trying as it usually won’t help.
Hopefully, you’ll have packed a shovel, cat litter and old carpet but if not, search around the area for anything that could create some traction.
Particularly look out for small pebbles and stones, tree twigs and gravel and place them all around your four tyres.
Thirdly, gently rock your car modestly forwards and backwards by using your reverse gear and second gear.
You should now have enough traction for your car journey to continue.
If that doesn’t work and you’re a Granite Breakdown member, call us on our 24-hour helpline: 028 90 029457, and we’ll be out with you as quickly as possible.
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