Cruising back from Wales on the freezing-fog-bound M4 on Tuesday evening, I began to wonder whether Britain does enough to train its drivers to cope with difficult weather conditions.
Winter tyres provide a safety benefit, but putting different black round things on each corner of your car is merely one part of the automotive jigsaw. They are only as good as the person behind the steering wheel and learning how to drive in snow, ice and fog should surely be another intrinsic element of the puzzle.
Perhaps the idea is a little bit too ‘nanny state’, but I don’t recall having any specific driving lessons in wintry conditions when I was preparing to take my driving test, and I definitely would have benefited from some.
My lack of snow driving experience was exposed in January 2007 when I went to Norway to co-drive in a rally in a Ford Fiesta ST competition car. The day before the event in the frozen depths of the Norwegian countryside, I was driving our Suzuki Vitara hire car down a snow-covered forest road when I slid out of control on a left-hand bend.
It was a fairly slow-speed incident, but as soon as the Vitara started slipping sideways everything went into fast-forward and the next thing I knew I was admiring a snow ditch while hanging upside down – fortunately secured by the seat belt of the inverted Suzuki, but feeling like a muppet.
I put the accident down to my general lack of experience in such extreme conditions, something I’ve since taken steps to remedy. Autocar’s readership contains a high proportion of skilled and knowledgeable drivers, but for most of the population, driving on snow-strewn public roads isn’t second nature like it is for Scandinavian and Nordic motorists.
At the start of this year I went to Finland to take part in Jaguar Land Rover’s winter driving experience. As the temperature plunged to minus 23 Centigrade, I drove Range Rovers and Jaguars on a beautiful ice field near Pukinpellontie, about 65 miles north of Helsinki.
Most useful was learning to drift a Jaguar XKR-S cabrio on a frozen ice lake. Multiple Finnish ladies’ rally champion Minna Sillankorva taught me the rudiments of controlling a sustained slide on ice, not least the finesse of steering input and subtle throttle control necessary to maintain the drift.
Of course it was great fun, and although it isn’t a lesson strictly applicable to a daily commute (although a desolate snow-covered roundabout can look quite tempting as a wintry skid pan) in terms of building my confidence on frozen roads it was invaluable.
So who feels adept in freezing road conditions? Has anyone taken part in any kind of winter driving course and did it make you a better driver? Do we even need to bother due to the amount of snow and ice we get?