New Zealand is a beautiful country, with great scenery, friendly people and pristine landscapes. Travelling to see our country’s more wild and untouched beauty, however, can mean driving on some perilous and winding roads, especially when bad weather hits.
In colder weather and temperatures these out-of-the-way roads can become tricky to navigate safely. Both the North and South Islands experience wet conditions in winter, however, a number of South Island and Central North Island roads also throw up the dual challenges of ice and snow.
Wet, icy and snowy conditions are responsible for a number of road accidents each year, so here is some guidance on how to drive safely in these conditions.
Planning your trip before you leave is essential when travelling during winter. Pick the safest routes and avoid choosing one just because it seems more convenient, or it might save you time.
If the weather forecast predicts bad weather, it’s wise to postpone your trip until the worst has passed. If your trip can’t be put off, it’s a good idea to drive during daylight – ideally spanning the middle of the day – and allow a bit of extra time for your trip. Driving during the day means you can see better and there’s less chance you’ll come across ice and snow on the road.
Before you leave, check your car’s oil, tyres, lights and brakes and ensure you have enough petrol in your tank in case you get diverted onto a different route. If you are driving in high altitude or very cold conditions, dress warmly and have a survival and a medical kit in your vehicle in case you get stranded or encounter other problems.
After setting off, make sure you drive to the conditions. This means that if the road is icy, wet or snowy, you should drive slower than usual. Don’t brake suddenly or turn sharply, as this could cause your car to skid and you to lose control.
If skidding is a threat and your car doesn’t have safety braking, ensure you pump the brake in quick successive bursts rather than holding your foot down, as this will reduce the risk of a skid. Stay particularly alert when driving over bridges, and slow down, as they often stay icy and slippery for longer than our usual chipseal or asphalt roads.
If you’re driving a long distance in winter, try and share driving responsibilities to make sure you remain fresh and alert. Stay well-rested and ensure you have a break every two hours or so if there is no-one to share the driving with.