Swedish Lessons in Winter Driving
Five tips from Volvo’s chief driving instructor, Bengt Norberg
As Canadians, we tend to think we’re pretty good at driving in winter conditions. But we’ve got nothing on the Swedes. Driving on ice is not just a normal part of life in northern Sweden—it’s a matter of survival. Cars have tires studded with metal spikes and extra spotlights to illuminate the darkness, which, in early February, lasts most of the day. A family SUV on its way to the grocery store looks like it’s kitted out for an expedition across Antarctica.
We drove Volvo’s new wagon, the V90 CrossCountry, and the hybrid XC90 SUV from Östersund airport to Åre, a ski resort 600 kilometres north of Stockholm. The V90’s all-wheel system did an excellent job scrabbling for grip. Along the way, we picked up some extreme winter driving tips from the Ice Man himself: Bengt Norberg, Volvo’s chief driving instructor and a member of the Volvo stunt driving team.
Here are his top five tips for driving on snow and ice:
Use Extreme Caution
Slow down before the corner. “A lot of people go too fast and end up in an accident,” says Norberg. Obvious, maybe, but it’s hard to know just how slow is slow enough. Err on the side of extreme caution at first, until you get a feel for the conditions.
Don’t Trust the Signs
“The second-biggest mistake is that people read the traffic sign,” says Norberg. “They don’t look at what’s under the tires.” Just because a sign indicates the speed limit is 80 km/h, that doesn’t mean it’s safe to go that fast when there’s snow and ice on the road.
Be Aware of Wildlife
The more alert you are, the more likely you are to spot a moose or other large animal before it’s too late. If you see a moose on the road, slam the brakes hard, and let the anti-lock system do its thing. If it’s possible to swerve around behind the moose, do it.
Test the Brakes
You can’t judge how slippery the road surface is just by looking; you need to test it. On an empty stretch of road, look in the rear-view mirror to make sure there are no cars behind you. If it’s all clear, “press down [lightly] on the brakes to feel how slippery it is out on the road,” says Norberg. Keep that in mind when coming up to traffic lights and stop signs.
If the front wheels start to slide, brake gently. If the back wheels start to slide, the stability-control system will likely react before you do. All you need to do is keep your eyes and the front wheels looking and pointing where you want to go. The stability-control system may make a rumbling sound, like anti-lock brakes, but don’t panic—it’s perfectly normal.