Heading off on a family snow holiday is a great adventure, but also one involving inherent dangers in treacherous road conditions. Motorists travelling on icy roads need to adjust their driving behaviour, prepare their vehicle in advance and take heed of expert advice.
The NRMA and state motoring associations all offer great tips for safe driving in snow. Here are some to keep in mind:
Before you go:
• Preparation is paramount. Check your vehicle thoroughly before heading out into the snow, and make sure your tyres, battery, brakes, engine and cooling system are in good working order.
• Always add anti-freeze to your engine radiator to avoid the coolant freezing, the engine blocking and the radiator cracking. Most modern cars use coolant with wide temperature capabilities, but you’ll need to check with your mechanic if special coolant is needed.
• Prepare for emergencies by packing a first aid kit, torch, tow-rope and spade.
On the road:
• Adjust your speed to suit the weather.
• Slow down if the conditions deteriorate and proceed with caution.
• Use headlights so your vehicle can be easily seen.
• Use fog lights in snowy conditions.
• Don’t overtake on a hill or bend.
• Don’t tailgate – keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front as braking distances in snow and ice are increased compared to dry conditions.
• Ease onto the brake and accelerator to avoid skipping and slipping.
• Obey traffic signs – they are there for your safety and convenience.
• Take special care of wildlife warning signs. Many road occurring in alpine regions involve native animals crossing roads, particularly at night.
• Don’t drive if you can’t see the edge of the road or the next snow pole. These are painted orange and are tall enough for drivers to get their bearings in heavy snow.
• National Park regulations state that all vehicles (except 4WDs) entering the National Park must carry chains when driving through designated snow and ice risk sections, identified by black and yellow signs.
• When directed, fit chains to the car’s driving wheels (back wheels on rear wheel drive cars and front wheels on front wheel drive cars). Generally this will be at special chain fitting bays along the route.
• Make sure the chains you buy or hire are suitable for the wheel diameter and tyre size of your car. If possible, have a practice fitting at a garage before the journey.
• Tyre pressure should be 25kPa or higher when using chains. Tyre manufacturers recommend that cars with radial tyres shouldn’t travel faster than 40 km/h when fitted with chains.
At the snow:
• Don’t apply the handbrake – moisture can freeze cables and brake linings. Instead, leave the car in gear with the front wheels turned away from the slope.
• Chock the wheels, but don’t use rocks as they may damage snow clearing machines.
• Apply your chains. Even if chains were not required to enter the area, it may be advisable to fit them when parking.
• Make sure windscreen wipers are lifted off the windscreen so they don’t snap under a heavy snowfall.
• Clear ice from windows and mirrors before attempting to drive away from the snowfields. Use the vehicle’s heater and fan in conjunction with the air conditioner.
• Warm your engine before heading off again.