Accidents caused by bad driving conditions have been a talking point again this winter. People tend to forget the instructions taught in driving school, and the weather conditions can surprise drivers during driving. The speed limits differ in Finland depending on whether it is winter or summer. During the winter, the roads are often slippery. Ice and snow make braking distances considerably longer. For that reason, the speed limits are also lowered for winter.
Complying with instructions for safe driving is crucial because even the slightest error can cause an accident on a slippery road. A major accident on Turunväylä in March is a prime example of this. It is specifically vital to check the weather reports before driving long distances. Weather cameras also help to assess the conditions on specific roads. If possible, it is better to avoid driving during bad conditions. Stay inside, check what is on TV, Play a game, read a book until the weather is better.
Safe distance and safe speed are essential
When driving on a slippery road, the braking distance is considerably longer, so keeping a safe distance in winter is very important. In good weather conditions, the braking distance is 50 meters when driving 80 km/h. On an icy road, the braking distance with the same speed can be over 180 meters. During bad weather, lowering your speed is crucial. You should never drive faster than the weather conditions permit, and sometimes the speed limit can be too high if the weather is bad. It is harder to control the car on an icy or slushy road.
Sometimes the snow can develop deep ruts on the road, which makes driving more challenging. Be sure to keep both hands on the steering wheel and to be extra careful in the curves. It is also vital to drive with caution because sudden movements, like quickly turning the wheel or braking, can derail the car off the road. During slippery conditions, it is beneficial to practice braking in a large and empty area, for example, in a parking lot.
Nowadays a couple of hours of driving on a custom built slippery track is a mandatory part of training for all those who get their first driving licence in Finland. The track makes it possible to safely experiment turns and stops in a slippery condition. It would be a good idea for expats and immigrants who have not had that as part of their training to try the track before driving in winter conditions. There are special tracks where you can train driving in slippery conditions around the year. When snow and ice not naturally available, these tracks use special material to mimic winter conditions.
Right tires in good condition give good traction
In June 2020, a law was introduced that makes using winter tires in Finland mandatory from November to March when the weather requires it. Old law stated that winter tires were mandatory for a part of the year, even when the weather didn't call for them. There are two types of winter tires, studded tires and friction tires.
Before changing to winter tires, check that they are in good condition. Old tires tend to harden and break. You should also check the depth of the tread pattern. The minimum tread depth for winter tires is 3 millimetres. During the winter, make sure the tires have enough pressure as it heavily affects tire traction.
Making sure visibility is good enough
Before driving, it is good to pay attention to visibility from the car. Remove snow and ice from the side windows, mirrors, and windscreen. It is also a good idea to check if the windscreen wipers are frozen. Be sure to wipe the windscreen from the inside, as dirt can impair visibility, especially if it is sunny. Car lights are often also dirty during the winter, and their effectiveness is worse because of the snow and dirt. Thus, cleaning these before driving is a good idea. A tip is to use high beams whenever they are not distracting the oncoming drivers or people.