Driving in the snow

It seems that most of England is affected by snow at the moment. People from colder climes are undoubtedly laughing at the way our country grinds to a halt under a few inches of white stuff. The fact is, though, our climate doesn’t justify excessive investment in gritters and snow ploughs (plows to the yanks!), while winter tyres are unheard of – they’re only worth considering if the temperature is regularly less than 5°C.

I got badly caught out in the snow last night on the M27 in southern England. There was about 6 inches of snow on the motorway and traffic had ground to a halt. For once, local radio was my friend and I soon determined that leaving the motorway for other roads was a no-go – they were all worse.

So I sat it out – at an average of 5mph, at least I was moving in the right direction and, at that speed, I was safe. There were times when I thought I was going to be stuck in the car all night but, eventually, the traffic thinned and I was able to make good progress – up to a heady 30mph.

Driving in the snow can actually be good fun and is a great way of experimenting with a car’s handling – you can induce under- or oversteer at very low speeds and then try to compensate for it. If you get it wrong, you’re not going to come to any harm, so long as you keep your speed down and choose your spot carefully – an empty dual carriageway proved perfect last night! Be super-gentle with all driver inputs – throttle, brakes and steering – as everything gets exaggerated.

If  you’re struggling to gain traction – which was a big problem for drivers on a hill going westbound on the M27 last night – then turn off your car’s traction control. Yes, it sounds crazy, but the system gets confused if all four wheels are spinning – turn it off and you’ll notice an immediate improvement. Also, bear in mind that your brakes aren’t going to be effective, even with ABS, so allow of space to stop.

Of course, it’s best to avoid travelling in these conditions, but if you really have to, then take warm clothes, emergency rations and a well-charged mobile. Oh, and check the traffic reports online and, dare I say, on local radio.

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