Driving in Winter
Clearing the Whole Car of Ice and Snow
Wintry conditions always require drivers to be especially cautious and, as a general example, leave a longer distance than usual to the vehicle in front of them. Braking distances are significantly longer on wet, snowy, or icy roads. When emergency braking on dry roads, at 50 km/h, a car has an average braking distance of around 14 meters. In snow or ice, it is easily twice this distance or more, warns DEKRA. There is also the added danger that snow and ice on the roof of the vehicle in front may fall off. Larger ice sheets falling from truck roofs can be a particularly unpleasant experience for drivers if they don’t keep a reasonable distance. Not only this, but driving with daytime running lights on dark winter days can also make cars more visible.
To play it safe, it is definitely a good idea to switch over to winter tires – even if there is no general legal requirement – because, in lower temperatures, the special rubber compound on these tires prevents them from hardening in the cold and thereby improves grip.
Even if winter has not really set in yet, drivers should still drive especially carefully on bridges, hilly roads, underpasses, and when passing clearings in forests. In these places, the road can be dangerously slippery even if it is otherwise dry and offers good traction. Drivers should also be mindful of speed limit signs with an additional “snowflake” marking, which indicates the danger of unexpected black ice. The same speed limit also applies if the road is dry.
DEKRA’s experts also recommend a number of additional safety-enhancing measures, such as removing any ice or snow from the surface of the entire car before setting off – not just leaving a “peephole.” Snow should be removed not only from all the windows, but also from the hood and roof of the car; otherwise, drivers risk suddenly losing visibility while driving. In addition to headlamps and other lighting equipment, vehicle sensors and cameras should also be cleared carefully to ensure that driver assistance systems can function reliably.
When driving in the mountains, drivers should remember to fit snow chains that are compatible with the size of the tires. It is crucial, however, that they attempt to mount the chains comfortably at home. Learning by doing in the middle of a snow storm on a pass in the Alps is not only nerve-wracking, but can also become dangerous. It is important to note that if there are signs showing tires with snow chains on a blue background on the side of the road, drivers will need to mount their snow chains, and vehicle speed will be limited to 50 km/h.
Winter accessories that should be kept in the vehicle include an ice scraper, a snow brush, an anti-fog cloth, and an extra supply of antifreeze solution for the windscreen washers. Drivers should also keep an insulated pair of work gloves in the car because changing tires or mounting chains is simply more efficient with warm hands. Furthermore, they should have a warm blanket available because the heater in the car may not run forever in the event of a breakdown or an endless traffic jam. Having a supply of water and emergency provisions in the car can also help drivers to survive lengthy unintended stops. For longer journeys, it is also recommended that they carry a flask of warm tea.