Five key tips for driving in the snow and ice in France

Five key tips for driving in the snow and ice in France
Photo: AFP
Winter weather has arrived in France, with heavy snowfall across much of the country, which means plenty of headlines about road accidents and traffic jams. Here are a few tips to avoid becoming a victim of the icy roads.

Plan ahead before departing

Before hitting the road, check the weather report via Météo France – where you are and where you’re going. 

And also check the government's real time traffic news website Bison Futé, which gives up to date details on the problems on the roads.

And also listen to the local radio stations or the ones advertised on French motorways.

Storms can arrive suddenly, so know what kind of driving conditions you’re going to be subject to.

Also, make sure that you are well-equipped in case you find yourself trapped in the snow or a weather-induced traffic jam. 


That means staying warm – in addition to warm clothes, it’s a good idea to keep a blanket or two in the car – and having something on hand to eat and drink, as it’s not unheard of that people find themselves trapped in by snow all night.

Keep an eye on the road signs. This sign which says “Verglas Frequent” warns of frequent black ice.



Have the right tyres for winter weather

If you are going to be in a region that will be affected by snow, ice, frost, etc., the ideal is to change your car’s tires to winter tyres, which have deeper treads and are designed not to become stiff and brittle, as summer tires will do below around 7C.

Tyres that have an ‘M+S’ (‘Mud and snow’) marked on them remain malleable in colder temperatures, and those who live in snowy, mountainous regions may even want to consider tyres that carry the heavy duty ‘3PMSF’ (‘3 Peak Mountain Snow Flake’) designation.

All four tyres should be changed, even on two-wheel drive vehicles, otherwise tyre performance will become unbalanced. Unfortunately, winter tyres do not do well in summer, and vice versa, so this is a change you may need to get used to making.

As far as putting tyre chains on goes, this is usually only necessary on very snowy mountain roads, and only on the wheels that receive power from the engine.

Be careful though, as certain mountain routes require this equipment in snowy weather, indicated by a blue road sign with a tyre with chains on it. In the case that you do need to put tire chains on your vehicle, remember that it they are only meant to be used at low-speed, no more than around 30 miles per hour.

Equip your vehicle to deal with snow and ice

Another major cause of winter accidents is lack of visibility, sometimes through the windows of the driver’s own car. So make sure you have a brush and scraper on hand to completely remove, snow, ice, and frost from windows. And that doesn’t mean leaving the snow on the roof of the car be – if not removed, it will often slide down onto the windows as the car heats up.

Also, make sure that your vehicle’s coolant tank has an adequate amount of antifreeze. This additive prevents the water in your engine’s cooling system from freezing in cold temperatures, a problem which can cause serious engine problems.

Adjust your driving style to the weather

The presence of snow and ice drastically reduces the adhesion of your car’s tyres to the road, limiting its efficacy when turning and breaking.

Braking or turning suddenly can cause your tyres to lose their already tenuous grip on the road, resulting in the slipping and sliding that causes most winter weather-related accidents.

In order to reduce the probability of this happening, it is necessary to become a more cautious driver. So slow down and increase your following distance (the distance between your vehicle and the vehicle ahead of it). Avoid accelerating while turning, and, if your vehicle has manual transmission, downshift to reduce speed rather than just relying on your brakes.

If the road has not been plowed, driving in the tracks created by others will usually allow your tires to get a better grip on the road. Above all, anticipate, so that you can make gradual, deliberate adjustments rather than abrupt reactions.

Observe safe winter time driving practices

In any weather conditions that adversely affect visibility – snow, sleet, fog – it’s a good idea to turn your headlights on, day or night. More than helping you to see where you’re going, this measure helps other drivers to see you. And if you should happen to find yourself behind a snow plow, resist the urge to jump ahead of it – it’s out there for a reason, and it will be safer to drive in its tracks.

Finally, if weather conditions are such that you don’t feel comfortable driving, than look for public transportation alternatives or wait until conditions change. Chances are that the wait is preferable to an accident.

by Edward O'Reilly