Winter Driving

Here is some useful information from the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) about safe driving during the winter months.

For drivers

  • Driving during winter is extremely treacherous on parts of our highway roads that are exposed to extreme weather conditions.
  • Plan your travel ahead to minimise delays and reduce the risk of death or serious injury on our roads.
  • Check weather and road conditions before you start on your trip. To help you plan your road trip go to 0800 4 HIGHWAYS (0800 44 44 49) or visit NZTA Winter Journeys.
  • Follow NZTA on Facebook or Twitter to receive real time traffic information while you’re on the road.
  • You should consider in extreme weather and road conditions whether you really need to travel.

Vehicle checklist guide

  • Check tyre treads.
  • Check brakes are in good running condition.
  • Your lights all work – low and high beam.
  • Good time to check your windscreen wipers and to replace worn wipers.
  • Clean windscreens to ensure they are all clear and you have good visibility.
  • Always carry vehicle chains and go to the NZTA Winter Journeys website which has a video link to show you how to put them on your tyres in snow road conditions.

Key tips to keep you safe

  • Look out for shaded areas caused by high backs and tall trees where the roads freeze sooner and ice may not thaw during the day.
  • Bridges could also stay slippery longer than other road surfaces.
  • Frost is more severe at daybreak, so be prepared for this after it becomes light. While it may not be frosty at 6am, it could be an hour or two later.
  • Allow greater following distances.
  • Motorists still need to be very careful, even if roads are covered with grit, because there is only a 40 per cent improvement in skid resistance.
  • Is your journey really necessary? Observe road warnings and allow extra time for your journey.

Driving in the wet

Stopping distances nearly double on wet roads, therefore, drivers should:

  • Slow down and keep a generous following distance between you and the car in front.
  • The two-second rule should be a four- second rule.
  • Be extra vigilant – reduce speed and take windy corners slowly.
  • Heed road signs warning of flooding and remember that you will need more time to stop and avoid hazards in wet conditions.

Driving in the snow and ice

Go slow on ice or snow. Whenever possible, avoid driving in heavy snow. If this is impossible, drive slow and:

  • Allow for much greater braking distances
  • Avoid braking suddenly to avoid skidding, give the brake pedal a few taps rather than one hard push
  • Remember to carry chains and know how to use them
  • Snow socks are only to be used for short distance travel with a travel speed of less than 30km/h.
  • Black ice, sometimes called clear ice, refers to a thin coating of glazed ice on a surface. The typically low levels of noticeable ice pellets, snow, or sleet surrounding black ice means that areas of the ice are often practically invisible to drivers or persons stepping on it. Black is very hazardous due to the increase risk of losing control and the loss of traction.
  • Take extra care on bridges and overpasses as black ice forms first on these surfaces making the road surface particularly hazardous.

Driving in fog

  • In fog, turn on your headlights, not your parking lights.
  • Adjust your speed so you have clear visibility of the road at all times.
  • Keep your headlamps on dipped (low beam), high beam will reflect off fog and produce glare, further reducing visibility.
  • Only use fog lamps when visibility is severely reduced (e.g. by snow or fog). It is illegal to use fog lamps in clear conditions (day or night) as they reduce the visibility of other drivers.
  • Keep a generous following distance between you and the car in front.

Driving with sun strike

Key tip: Keep your windscreen clean, inside and out.

Sun strike can occur at any time, but more likely during sunrise or sunset during the winter months, when the sun’s rays hit your windscreen at a low angle.  This can make it difficult, or even impossible, to see. If it is too difficult to see, you should reduce your speed and pull over in a safe location until visibility improves.

Driving winding roads

Key tip: Please reduce speeds around bends and don’t take the risk of cutting corners.

Climbing and descending hills in snow requires special care. Climb hills in the highest possible gear – lower engine revs will minimize the chances of losing traction and spinning wheels. If there are tracks in the snow in front of you, follow them if it is safe to do so.

Page reviewed: 15 Jul 2016 3:18pm