Darkness, fog, wetness, icy roads, snow: autumn and winter are a real challenge for drivers. This is especially true if they have only passed their driving test a few months ago and therefore still lack routine. But if they take the following recommen-dations to heart, they can do a lot to protect themselves and other road users.
Driving tyres suitable for winter
In Germany and many other countries, winter or all-season tyres are compulsory as soon as winter road conditions prevail. These tyres are marked on their sidewall with the snowflake symbol in the mountain pictogram. It signals that they have passed an official test and are suitable for winter conditions. Equally important are the correct inflation pressure and the tread depth of the tyres. Even though the legislator pre-scribes a minimum tread depth of only 1.6 millimetres, winter and all-season tyres should have at least three to four millimetres of remaining tread. Otherwise their braking distances will be considerably longer.
Prepare the car before setting off
Safe driving requires that all windows, indicators, rear lights and headlights as well as the car roof be cleared of snow and ice beforehand. Caution: Do not remove ice from the windscreen with hot water. The temperature differences can cause cracks or even crack the windscreen.
High-tech is fine, but not enough
Modern cars have electronic driving aids such as the anti-lock braking system ABS or the electronic stability control ESP. They are particularly useful in the cold season. In addition, all-wheel-drive cars are considered very suitable for winter driving, espe-cially if they have automatic locks that prevent individual wheels from spinning. But beware: driving aids and all-wheel drive cannot eliminate the risks of slippery roads. With all-wheel drive in particular, novice drivers tend to mistakenly transfer good pro-pulsion in winter conditions to braking.
Reduce speed and keep sufficient distance
Excessive speed and insufficient safety distance from the vehicle in front are the most frequent causes of accidents. In wet, snowy and icy conditions, appropriate speed and sufficient distances are therefore a must! Guideline: Divide the driving speed on the speedometer by two. The result is the minimum distance in metres. At 50 km/h this means at least 25 metres.
Starting on slopes and in icy conditions
How do you start the car before entering the ramp of a car park or at the traffic lights before a steep bend without stalling the engine? Novice drivers should only acceler-ate a little in first gear with the handbrake on and at the same time let the clutch come in lightly. As soon as there is a tingling sensation under the accelerator pedal - usually at around 1500 to 2000 rpm - and the gear is noticeably engaged, release the handbrake carefully until the car is moving forward. On icy roads or in heavy snow, it has proven effective to start off in second gear with the clutch dragging - with or without the help of the handbrake.
Driving safely in aquaplaning conditions
In aquaplaning, the tyres cannot displace the water from their treads fast enough. They float up and lose contact with the ground. If thaw sets in, aquaplaning is a dan-ger wherever water cannot drain off properly. Especially in dips, underpasses and ruts. A cautious driving style is an absolute must on these road passages. It is equal-ly important to observe the water surge on the tyres of the car in front. If there is a risk of aquaplaning, turn off the radio, slow down and concentrate. However, if you get caught in aquaplaning, do not brake under any circumstances! Instead, disen-gage the clutch and keep the steering wheel straight until the tyres stick to the road again. For cars with automatic transmission: Do not change gear and take your foot off the accelerator slowly.
Safely through every bend
Long bends or bends in close succession can make novice drivers sweat. What should they do? When entering a bend: take your foot off the accelerator and reduce speed, downshift and brake as little as possible. Then turn in softly until the ideal steering angle for the bend is reached. After that accelerate a little without changing gear. Only when the road is straight again can you pick up speed in the next higher gear.
One principle always applies in bends: never steer and brake at the same time. In an emergency, first straighten the steering wheel and only then step on the brake. Re-lease the brake again just before the edge of the road and steer back into the bend. This takes some effort and should be practiced in safety training courses.
Braking on slippery roads
If you are driving a car without anti-lock braking system (ABS), you must disengage the clutch on slippery roads and apply the brake pedal with low pressure. The tyres should not lock, because in this case they lose grip completely. If the car swerves, drivers must immediately release the brakes. Then steer in the desired direction and brake again. If the car has ABS, drivers can brake and steer at the same time. The pedal must be fully depressed for the anti-lock braking system to work properly. A rattling brake pedal signals that ABS is working and functioning. If, on the other hand, the pedal pulsates during normal driving, the speed is too high for the surface.
When it snows
If it is snowing, switch on the car's daytime running lights immediately. If the patches of snow become thicker and severely restrict visibility, the dipped headlights must also be switched on and the safety distance to the vehicle in front significantly in-creased. This is because the braking distance can be several times longer in snow despite winter tyres. And it is better to drive in the fresh snow than in the lane of the car in front. In the lane ahead, the snow quickly compacts into ice and becomes more slippery. On untouched snow, the tyres can grip better. To prevent the wheels from spinning or getting stuck on snow, slow acceleration and early shifting into a higher gear are part of safe driving.
Caution: Black ice
Black ice occurs as soon as raindrops hit the cold or even frozen ground and imme-diately solidify into ice. If you are already on an icy road, it is important to recognize the danger at an early stage. A look at the outside temperature helps. If the temper-ature drops below 4 degrees Celsius, the risk of black ice increases. If you skid on black ice, hold the steering wheel and depress the clutch - or shift to "N". If the car threatens to leave the road, steer carefully and not jerkily. Then brake very gently to reduce speed and stay in your own lane.
Safe driving in fog
In order to keep a clear view in the fog, the first thing drivers should do is turn on their dipped headlights. The fog lights are only used when visibility is less than 100 metres. Because this distance is difficult to estimate in foggy surroundings, drivers can orientate themselves on the bumper of the vehicle in front. If this is no longer visible in the fog, the fog lights are switched on. At the same time, immediately in-crease the distance to the car in front. As a general rule, the distance should be at least as great as the maximum visibility. To prevent the car windows from fogging up and thus obstructing visibility, they should always be heated sufficiently. An interior temperature of at least 22 degrees Celsius is recommended.
Admittedly: That's a lot of advices. Many of the recommended behaviours become routine over the years. Nevertheless, novice drivers should not rely on time alone, but should prepare themselves for emergencies at practice areas and driving safety training courses.