New Zealand Snow Driving Advice

Monday, November 14th, 2016

Man Putting Snow Chains Onto Tyre Of CarWeather conditions in New Zealand can be unpredictable at the best of times, the addition of unforeseen snow and road ice and even heavy rain or fog can periodically make driving conditions quite treacherous.  Even though it is rare for winter snow to cause road closures extreme care must be taken when driving, particularly in alpine regions.

Driving on snow and ice presents a variety of new challenges; speeds, stopping, starting and turning can be adversely affected.  If you can reschedule or delay your trip then remaining off the roads is ideal, but if you have to make the journey there are a few things to keep in mind when driving in snowy conditions.

Plan Ahead

Expect the unexpected, just because its fine when you depart doesn’t mean it will be along your entire journey.  The New Zealand Transport Agency is a good place to check for road closures or traffic warnings prior to departure or for up to date weather forecasts the Metservice is a reliable New Zealand weather site, but remember to be prepared for the conditions to change.   

The New Zealand winter months fall in June, July and August, these are the months most likely to encounter snowy or icy conditions.  Be sure to clear any ice or snow from your windscreen, roof and all windows completely before setting off to ensure no obstructions to your vision during your journey. If the weather is extreme, delay travel and stay indoors.

Always Be Prepared

Packing a winter driving emergency kit before departure is recommended as a precautionary measure, after all its better to be safe than sorry.  It may include items like:

  • A fully charged mobile phone
  • Extra clothing, blankets, coats, gloves etc
  • Snow chains
  • A torch
  • Reflective safety gear
  • A First Aid Kit
  • A Fire Extinguisher
  • Tyre changing tools
  • A multi-tool or Swiss-army type knife
  • Spare food and water
  • A small spade

Tips When Driving In Snow

Drive To The Conditions.  Driving in snow and ice is dangerous, give yourself time to manoeuvre – slow down!  Slowing down well before corners, give way and stop signs to reduce the necessity for sudden braking is advised.  

Drive With Your Lights On.  Snow, fog and heavy rain can reduce visibility, having headlights on (dipped) increases the chance of other vehicles being able to see you.

Maintain Increased Following Distances.  When attempting to stop or slow down in snow and ice the reduced friction between the car and the round can cause the vehicle to slide, increased following distances should be maintained at all times to avoid collisions.

Avoid Sudden Braking Or Sharp Turns.  Braking and turning should be approached in a gentler fashion to avoid entering a slide.  If your vehicle begins to slide, reduce pressure on the accelerator and attempt to maintain steering.

Allow Extra Time.  Slower more careful travel will mean a longer journey time.  If possible it is best to travel during the warmer part of the day, giving snow and ice the opportunity to melt and increased traffic levels.  If it is necessary to travel in darkness then be extra prepared for the presence of ice, particularly black ice.  

Help And Advice

Always follow the advice and recommendations of road patrol or police officers.  Road closures and restrictions are put in place for your safety, ignoring these will not only void your insurance, it is also illegal to drive on a closed highway.  In the event of an emergency always dial 111.

For mechanical breakdowns, contact your breakdown service provider, or local garage or workshop.  If you get stuck remain with the vehicle until help arrives, and most of all keep warm.  Report any crashes to the police even if no one was injured.

Road conditions, closures and delay information is helpful before departing on your journey, along with up to date weather forecasts and local conditions.

Fitting Snow Chains

Snow chains provide increased traction when driving in snow and ice and are available on all types of vehicles including those with four wheel drive capabilities.  It is best to check with your car rental company for information on securing snow chains for your trip.  Make sure you know how to fit them and when to fit them before leaving your car rental depot.  Car hire companies will provide the correct size and be more than happy to help with fitting instructions but here is a handy video showing just how easy it is: 

Snow chains give a reassurance of added safety when having to unexpectedly adapt to the changing conditions, however they are only to be used when the road surface is covered in a protective layer of compacted snow or ice.  Remember to pull over into a safe off-road area to fit your chains, wearing safety reflective clothing is a good idea.  When driving with snow chains fitted always drive carefully and slowly and remove them when the road conditions clear as continuing to drive with them on can cause damage.

Winter Car Rental

Most good car hire companies will have a range of vehicles suitable for winter driving in New Zealand.  Four Wheel Drive vehicles are sometimes recommended especially when travelling to remote ski fields and through back country alpine roads.

Snow chains are usually offered in conjunction with you rental vehicle, particularly in the winter months.  Rental car staff will be more than happy to answer questions and give advice for safe winter driving and also provide recommendations if planning to travel through areas known for heavy snowfall.

For the safety of all motorists travelling during the colder months please be well aware of the road conditions and prepared for potential hazards and delays prior to departure.  If the weather becomes severe, consider staying where you are until the roads clear up and it is safer to travel. Have a safe and enjoyable trip.

Related posts:
Safe Winter Driving in New Zealand

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