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Created on 01.11.2019

Safety in winter: an instructor’s tips on driving in snow and ice

Want to find out how to drive safely during the winter? Driving instructor Sabina Suter-Loretz has some tips on what to be aware of and how to drive safely in snowy and icy conditions. As a native of the Swiss Canton of Graubünden, she knows a lot about snow – and its dangers. She takes us for a winter drive.

“To drive safely in the winter, you need a winter-proofed vehicle,” says Sabina Suter-Loretz, qualified driving instructor and owner of the Fahrschule SSL driving school in Pfäffikon, Canton of Schwyz. This means you need to be using good winter tyres with a tread depth of at least four millimetres, and you should keep snow chains, an ice scraper and a warm blanket in your car. You should also have your vehicle’s roadworthiness and reliability checked. Ideally, you should take your car to a mechanic to have a proper winter check carried out by professionals. She also recommends: “Practise attaching your snow chains properly during dry conditions. That way, you will be ready in an emergency.” Now we’re ready to take a little drive.

Getting started

“Fortunately, I have my own garage, so I can set off right away,” says Suter-Loretz. “But if your car is parked outside, you first need to clear away all snow and ice – from all windows, mirrors, indicators, the roof and the licence plate. Otherwise, not only will you be endangering yourself and others, but you will also be risking a fine, an offence or even the loss of your licence. When driving, take off your thick winter jacket to ensure your seat belt fits properly, and stamp any snow and ice off your shoes when you get into the car, to avoid bringing moisture in with you.” Now we’re ready, we can set off. “I drive and steer carefully, change gears in good time and check my brakes before I get to a main road. Of course, I make sure beforehand that nobody else is nearby who might be endangered by this.” Next, we head carefully to the motorway.

Driving on the motorway

“When driving on the motorway – including when changing lanes – we need to drive carefully and defensively. The hard shoulder after the on-ramp is often not cleared of snow and ice. This makes it difficult to keep driving if you can’t get on to the motorway immediately. I accelerate slowly and change gears with plenty of time. I adapt my speed to my vehicle’s capabilities and the prevailing road conditions. I also maintain plenty of distance from other vehicles, as the braking distance is far greater in snowy conditions,” explains the experienced driving instructor. “Because it’s starting to snow and getting dark, I make sure my car has switched correctly from daytime driving lights to dipped headlights. This ensures the vehicle is also lit from behind and more visible to other road users. We have to be extra careful when crossing bridges, as the road is more likely to be icy there. In dangerous areas, the crash barrier is twice as high.”

Up into the snow...

We leave the motorway again in Wollerau. “I brake with the engine as much as possible and finish changing gears before I enter a bend. If I don’t finish changing gears before the bend starts, the jolting motion of the gear change could fill the treads with snow, causing me to skid out of the bend.” We drive up to Schindellegi, maintaining a safe distance from the vehicles in front of us. “I make sure that I don’t have to stop on the slope. Things would soon get difficult without an all-wheel drive. In extreme cases, the only options would be to turn around and find a different route or to mount snow chains.” We arrive at the tunnel in Schindellegi. “Just as for bridges, streams or rivers, woods and shaded areas, we should take care in case of ice as we go through the tunnel.”

...and back again

We turn around at the train station in Biberbrugg. One of the bends is quite slippery. “Modern driving assistance systems do help somewhat, but if it’s too late, you will still end up skidding. This means you should make sure you don’t drive too close to the limit and don't let your assistance system lull you into a false sense of security. When driving on snow and ice, only make gentle steering movements – except in an emergency situation – and generally drive as cautiously as possible.”

Home safe and sound

We arrive safely back in Pfäffikon. “In winter, you need to adapt to the conditions, drive carefully and defensively, and keep your hands at the 9 and 3 o’clock positions on the steering wheel. Don’t drive in icy or extreme weather conditions – or at least wait until the roads have been treated by the winter road maintenance. Don’t risk your life just to save a few minutes. And one more tip: if you’re scared or unsure, you should take a winter safety driving course or a couple of refresher courses at a driving school. I regularly take additional training courses and can only recommend it for all drivers.”

Your checklist for safe winter driving:

  • Mount good winter tyres and have a winter check carried out
  • Make sure you keep snow chains, ice scrapers and warm blankets in your car
  • Completely clear all snow and ice off your car
  • Take off your thick winter jacket when driving and stamp any snow and ice off your shoes
  • Where possible, check your brakes as you set off
  • Drive carefully and defensively, keeping plenty of distance between you and other cars
  • Accelerate slowly and make sure that you change gears in good time
  • Adjust your speed based on your vehicle’s capabilities and prevailing road conditions
  • Brake with your engine where possible
  • Finish changing gears before entering a bend
  • Make sure you are using the right lights
  • Take extra care when you reach tunnels, bridges, streams, shady areas, etc.
  • Keep your hands at the 9 and 3 o’clock positions and steer gently
  • Do not drive in very icy or extreme weather conditions

PostFinance car insurance wishes you a safe and enjoyable journey!

About the driving instructor

Sabina Suter-Loretz is a qualified driving instructor and owner of the Fahrschule SSL driving school in Pfäffikon, Canton of Schwyz.

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