Rather than being surprised by the weather, we should be surprised that we are at all surprised. Since the start of the year it has been insufferably cold in the way that only the UK can be; having spoken to Polish and Russian friends who are well used to what you would term a ‘proper’ winter (regular temperatures below -20) even they are surprised at how cold it feels in this country even when the thermometer is barely showing zero. And yet, even with fair warning that there was a sizeable dump of snow in the post, we as a nation have gone about it in our usual haphazard fashion.
It’s not as if the TV hadn’t hyped it up either. Any chance to append the word ‘chaos’ to travel reports is not missed, and on-the-scene reporters get to stand next to motorways across the country, perhaps hoping for an accident to occur right in front of the camera or be able to announce an escalation in the severity of the storm.
So why oh why oh why have the majority of us taken one look out of the window before comprehensively falling off the road? Maybe I’m being unsympathetic, but driving on ice and snow isn’t actually as hard as some people seem to think. In fact, the simplest way is to simply imagine you are walking on the surface instead of driving on it.
For example, when standing on ice, do you a) try and accelerate to running speed as quickly as possible or b) take careful, cautionary steps before reaching a modest walking pace? And conversely, if someone steps in front of you as you’re walking along the pavement, do you a) pull a full emergency stop by planting both feet firmly on the ground or b) try to stop as gingerly as possible in order to avoid losing grip? I think you can see the point I’m crudely trying to make.
Of course, a little overconfidence can be considerably more dangerous than healthy trepidation. A quick search on YouTube will bring up hundreds of videos of drivers carrying way too much speed in slippery conditions, wildly overestimating the amount of grip their 4×4 gives them (very little in actual fact) or worse still, putting snow chains on the undriven wheels of their car (an error which should be punishable by a 12-month ban).
At this point in the argument it is customary to point to the Scandinavian countries, who spend six months of every year driving on snow and ice and subsequently make it look like child’s play. ‘But we only get a few days of snow a year!’ is the usual counter-argument, and yes that is arguably the case. But unless you decide that every year you’re just going to concede to staying in doors for five days because it’s too much bother to learn about driving on snow and ice, then I wish I had your relaxed approach to life.
The truth is there are dozens of places in the UK where you can drive on low-friction surfaces that simulate ice and snow. Even half an hour in these conditions to explore the limits of grip in complete safety can do wonders for your confidence; and that’s proper confidence, not the kind that comes from excessive bravado.