Vehicle Safety

Winter driving: tips and techniques to keep you safe


As we head into the coldest months of the year, it’s reassuring to know that most new cars today have never been safer.

Many new cars now come standard with safety features such as traction control and electronic stability control, which prevent your wheels from slipping on wet, icy or snow-covered roads. Automatic windscreen wipers keep your field of vision clear, while adaptive and LED lights make cars more visible on foggy and cloudy days. Forward collision warning, with automatic braking, can help prevent a crash when road conditions deteriorate and it’s harder to see obstacles and other cars.

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Yet even if you’re driving the latest 5-star ANCAP safety rated vehicle, you still need to be alert and drive to the conditions. More than 600 serious or fatal crashes occurred in the rain, snow, ice or sleet in 2020/2021, according to Waka Kotahi data.

“International research has found for example that heavy rain can obscure road markings, which effectively stops some modern safety features from functioning properly,” says Simon Douglas, AA General Manager Motoring Affairs.

“Modern safety systems rely on cameras, but if there is any problem with the cameras, or with what the cameras can see, then the alert system won’t work properly. In essence, advanced safety systems do add safety benefits, but they don’t replace engaged driving. Regardless of how modern your vehicle is, all drivers need to take extra precautions during winter and drive to the conditions.”

Tips for safe winter driving

Ideally, you should avoid driving in bad weather, but it can strike unexpectedly. Check the weather forecast – if you are heading out as the weather might turn on you, and always choose the safer route over the quicker one.

Once on the road, here are a few tips to help keep you safe:

  • Drive more slowly than usual.
  • Maintain a greater following distance than you would in fine weather.
  • Avoid sudden braking or sharp turns – these can cause skids.
  • Dip your headlights on foggy, snowy, or very cloudy days.
  • Use the lowest reasonable gear when travelling downhill, and the highest going uphill.
  • Watch out for shady areas of the road on cold days, as ice will form faster and linger in these cooler spots.
  • Be aware of black ice, which is particularly slippery – it can appear as a glossy sheen on the road but is sometimes impossible to spot. Black ice is most common on quiet roads.
  • Slow down on bridges, flyovers, in tunnels, and shady patches on the road.
  • If you’re travelling at dawn, be wary of frost.
  • On stormy and windy days, take corners slowly as trees or debris may have been blown onto the road.

You’ll need to be particularly alert in winter when you’re driving to one of New Zealand’s ski fields, as well as on and around the Desert Road, and throughout the South Island.

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How to be prepared for an emergency

If you’re driving in rural areas or for longer distances, make sure you always have your phone fully charged before you set off. You should also stock your car with emergency supplies:

  • Extra blankets or clothing, including thick gloves in case you’re changing a tyre in bad weather.
  • Snow chains – here’s an informative video on how to fit them.
  • A torch.
  • Reflective safety gear.
  • First aid kit.
  • Fire extinguisher.
  • Tyre changing tools.
  • Multi tool or Swiss Army-style knife.
  • Food and water.
  • Small spade.
  • Plastic ice scraper and a can of de-icer.

Drive to the conditions and call us if you need us

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It’s essential that you adjust your driving to match the conditions, which means constantly assessing the weather and the state of the roads, and moderating you're driving accordingly.

If you find yourself in difficulties this winter, AA Roadservice is available 24/7 by calling *222 from your mobile or a roadside phone.

How can the AA help?

Vehicle experts you can trust

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