I’VE NOT even bothered to watch a news bulletin on the TV or click through to a news website because I have a window, and through it I can see snow therefore I know exactly what the news will comprise of. The word ‘chaos’ will appear frequently, there will be footage of buses struggling to get up hills and the message will be drummed home with annoying frequency; don’t travel unless it is absolutely necessary.
Well it’s not necessary to run to the local supermarket and buy 5,000 tins of baked beans because you think the four horsemen of the apocalypse are saddling up, but that’s what some people are doing. It’s a phenomenon that I hope is particular to this country, because if another land flapped in the same way at the first sight of snow I’d consider never visiting it again.
Call me irresponsible if you like, but I drove in to work this morning. It’s no small journey either – 41 miles of mostly motorway with a city centre finish – and I wasn’t driving a trumped-up 4×4 with winter tyres either. In fact I was driving a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van, which has rear-wheel drive (not ideal for snow) and nothing more than ESP and a high driving position in its favour.
But here I am, in one piece with an undamaged vehicle and only 10 minutes later than I would have been after the same journey on a clear, dry day. Why is this? Well partly because a proportion of the driving population have taken one look outside their window and reached the conclusion that the only way to survive the snowpocalypse is to hide under the stairs. Those brave souls who do decide to venture out usually fall into two categories: the spectacularly cautious who you’ll find crawling along at 5mph even on the motorway, or the comically ignorant who continue as if it is an ordinary day.
So the roads you travel on can either be gloriously empty, or completely snarled up thanks to the latter type having stuck their car in a ditch. There’s a good chance it will be a 4×4 driver too, who believes that their big off-roader gives them extra grip. Sorry to burst that particular bubble, but four-wheel drive gives you extra traction – so you have four wheels putting the power down rather than two – which gives an advantage over a conventional two-wheel drive car. But the amount of grip you have is determined by the tyres; you can’t stop or turn any faster or better with four-wheel drive, although you might stand a better chance of getting out of the ditch you’ve just put yourself in.
No, what’s required is a simple approach that actually works all year round. Drive at a speed appropriate to the conditions, and leave enough space to the car in front that you can stop comfortably. If it’s just wet, the stopping distance doubles. If it’s snowy or icy that can quadruple compared to a dry road. And if you’re really sensible you’ll have the winter tyres on that you bought last year, stored in the garage and dragged out again in October. It shouldn’t really come as a surprise, but the solution to this problem is actually very simple indeed.