Travelling for work, getting away for a ski weekend or simply topping up on supplies, New Zealanders spend a lot of time on the road. Our country has nearly 95,000km of local roads and state highways, with over half of them unsealed and 70% of them in rural locations.
With that in mind, it's also no secret that different weather conditions, particularly during the winter months, can make our roads tricky to navigate and at times, put our safety at risk if we don't drive to the conditions effectively.
Below, we uncover some driving tips to help navigate the ever-changing NZ weather on our roads, as well as some built in car features that can help to ensure we keep ourselves and others safe on the roads. Enjoy!
Driving Tips to Keep You Safe
When you’re sitting in a nice warm car with all the mod-cons, it’s easy to underestimate the conditions outside. In winter the sun sits lower in the sky so sunstrike can be a real problem. In rural areas there are sections of road that stay icy all day and in some places torrential rain can lead to surface flooding which can cause you to aquaplane. So what can you do to stay safe?
You've probably heard someone mention before that the 'speed limit isn't a target'. In winter there’s often less grip and less visibility so the speed at which you normally travel may not be safe. Reduce your speed when cornering or if the conditions change and don’t feel pressured by drivers behind you. Pulling over and letting them pass can make your trip more comfortable and doesn’t alter how long it will take to get to your destination.
Try not to brake suddenly as it can cause your wheels to lock up. Drive smoothly and predictably so no-one has to make any sudden moves. Should you need to stop suddenly, apply your foot to the brake quickly and firmly and keep a firm grip on the wheel with the vehicle pointing in a straight line. Braking severely while cornering can lead to loss of control of the vehicle. If you’re driving a manual, press the brake before the clutch. When travelling downhill it is wise to change down a gear to allow the engine braking to help control your speed without strong use of the brake pedal.
When travelling in fog, rain or snow, drive with your headlights dipped for increased visibility ahead and so other drivers can see you more easily too. Turn on your fog lamps in foggy conditions and drive at a speed where you are able to stop quickly if needed.
Make sure you defrost your windscreen and keep it clean. Also don’t forget to wipe your door mirrors as these can get wet or ice up on cold winter mornings. Put your headlights on during dusk and dawn, and also when there’s fog, dark clouds or heavy rain.
Have your sun visor or sunglasses ready – especially in the early morning and evening when the sun is low in the sky and turn on your headlights. That way you can be easily seen by other drivers.
Watch out in the wet
When it's raining, firstly reduce your speed. Your car will take longer to stop so increase the distance between you and the car in front from the recommended 2 seconds to 4 seconds. Check the road ahead to avoid any big puddles and follow the tracks of the car in front as this part of the road will be slightly less slippery than the rest.
It’s icy out there
Hitting a patch of road with ice on it can be very scary. Watch out for areas that stay shaded during the short winter days and in and around bridges. Ice is likely to form in these places and take your time especially in and around rural areas. You can find out more on what to do when you find yourself encountering black ice on the roads, in this video here.
Let it snow
If you’re travelling up the mountain and on higher altitude roads, dress for the conditions, carry extra warm clothes and keep a survival kit in your car in case you get stuck. Have at least half a tank of petrol in your vehicle in case the road is closed and you get diverted to another route. Be prepared and carry tyre chains and practise fitting them before you leave on your trip. If you're not sure where to start, try this helpful video on how to put chains on your tyres.
Keep your car in good condition. It's your responsibility as a driver to always check your tyre pressure, water, petrol, oil and window washer fluid levels. It is especially important to check your tyres have plenty of tread and they’re properly inflated as you will need every bit of grip you can get when the conditions are wet, icy or slippery. You’ll find the specifications in your owner’s manual, or your local mechanic or service station can set the pressures for you. Make sure your headlights and wipers are working. New blades cost very little and can make a world of difference when the rain starts bucketing down.
Before starting your journey, check the weather forecast and road conditions so you know what to expect. NZTA (New Zealand Transport Association) have a helpful trip planner you can use with up-to-date information on delays, roadworks and road closures and estimates on travelling time.
Last but not least (and this is a biggie!) make sure you have no distractions on the road. That means no texting and driving, setting up GPS maps while you're moving, or reaching over the back seat to pass your child something. The weather and road surface conditions in winter are very challenging and all of your focus needs to be on the road ahead.
Car Safety Features to Check For
When purchasing a new car, it's also important to ensure that you understand the different safety features that are available and how they'll make a difference to your driving experience. Below are a few of our game changing features to keep in mind - and why they're important.
Check the ANCAP safety rating
ANCAP safety ratings are determined based on a series of internationally recognised, independent crash tests and safety assessments – involving a range of destructive physical crash tests, an assessment of on-board safety features and equipment, and performance testing of active collision avoidance technologies. Through checking the safety ratings, you'll be able to compare your new car to others on the market.
Airbags can be a genuine lifesaver in a crash, so it's important to make sure that your car is equipped with the right ones to protect you and your passengers. Front air bags for the driver and passenger deploy when a moderate or severe frontal impact is detected, minimising the impact to the head and chest. Curtain and front side airbags are provided for side impact collisions, mitigating the impact to head and chest areas of the occupants.
Electronic Stability Programme (ESP)
This braking system helps you stay in control when you are cornering by counteracting understeer and oversteer. It also improves traction and reduces skidding – whatever the road surface conditions.
It goes without saying that when reversing, you often have less visibility. A reverse camera can help with this, making it easier to see properly when parking and increasing safety when backing-up.
AEB (Automatic Emergency Braking)
AEB systems use sensors to detect obstacles ahead and assess whether a collision is likely. The system usually starts by warning you that you need to brake using a dashboard message or audible alarm. If you fail to take action, the automatic or ‘autonomous’ part of the system will kick in and apply the brakes automatically.
Lane departure warning
This system recognises visible white and yellow lane markings and if it detects the possibility of your car veering out of its lane it will warn you using a dashboard message and audible warning. In some vehicles it will also vibrate the steering wheel.
If you get tired and the car starts to wander back and forth, this system alerts you with audio and visual warnings.
Blind spot monitoring
This electronic radar system warns you when there are other vehicles in your blind spot by flashing an illuminated warning LED icon in the exterior door mirror. When you indicate to change lanes, the flashing LED icon is accompanied by an audible warning sound alert, alerting you.
Adaptive cruise control
Adaptive cruise control uses radar and cruise control systems to automatically slow or stop your car in order to avoid hitting the car in front. It maintains a pre-set vehicle-to-vehicle distance by automatically accelerating up to a set speed and decelerating or stopping your vehicle to match the speed changes of the vehicle ahead without having to use the accelerator or brakes.
Daytime running lamps
These provide extra visibility during the day for oncoming drivers. These white lights automatically turn on when the car is being driven and the headlamps are turned off.
Headlight high beam assist
High beam assist automatically adjusts the headlamps between high and low beam when it detects oncoming vehicle’s tail lights or headlights, or when your car drives from rural roads into brighter urban streets.
Auto levelling and light sensing headlights
This system automatically adjusts the direction of the beam from the headlights so it is continually pointing at the road no matter the position of the car. This function makes adjustment for added rear weight in the vehicle such as rear passengers or a trailer. It also helps provide the best visibility for when you are driving long distances on open roads.
Depending on the car you choose to buy, it may include some 4WD features that can help you navigate changing road surfaces. For example, Suzuki ALLGRIP Select vehicles have four selectable modes – AUTO, SNOW, MUD, SPORT that maximize the performance of the transmission, engine, and safety systems depending on road surfaces and driving conditions. You can read more about this feature here.
Want Help Choosing the Right Car to Keep You Safe?
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