Driving Tips

National Driving Academy blog covers items related to safe driving relevant to learner drivers and their families.

Safety Tips for Winter Driving - Driving from Canberra to the Snow

Caitlin Kerr - Friday, June 17, 2016

What I love about the Canberra Region is its distinct four seasons. And right now we are in the midst of a very cold and wet winter.

Not surprisingly it’s at this time of year that many Canberrans make good use of the nearby snow fields. A journey to the snow requires travel by car along the Monaro Highway (National Route 23) and the Snowy Mountains Highway (Route 18), Jindabyne Road and Alpine Way. The Monaro and Snowy Mountains Highways are two-lane rural highways with parts of the route subject to snow fall and ice during the winter months. 

Typically, large volumes of traffic from Canberra and Sydney head south along the Monaro Highway toward the slopes on Friday afternoons, while Sunday afternoons see the weary travellers entering and passing through Canberra again as they head home again. 

The sheer volume of traffic combined with what can often be icy conditions can make this trip a risky one, so here’s some top tips to ensure your trip to the snow does not take a turn for the worst: 
  • Ensure you are adequately rested before embarking on your trip. 
  • Be alert and patient when driving in heavy traffic conditions. 
  • Counter fatigue during your trip by taking regular breaks to rehydrate, replenish and allow your concentration levels time to recharge. Driver-Reviver stations are generally in operation over busy ski weekends and police encourage a break every two hours. 
  • Be aware that seasonal drops in temperature can lead to road conditions changing suddenly, potentially bringing hazards such as high winds, snow, ice or fog. 
  • Be prepared for sudden changes and tailor your driving accordingly.

For additional advice on roads and traffic to the NSW snowfields from the Roads Traffic Authority, see here  They also provide a recorded information service which you can access by phoning (02) 6450 5555.

General winter driving in Canberra

Even if you’re not heading to the snow, general winter conditions in Canberra such as rain, hail, sleet and snow, make driving a vehicle a challenge and extra concentration is always needed. Even the lightest of rain showers can make road conditions slippery, particularly when mixed with oil and other substances that have accumulated on the roads over time. Rain, hail, sleet and snow also affect visibility when driving and can result in additional hazards like localised flooding or debris on the roadway.


Good tyres with treading that is not worn are critical for safe driving in any type of weather!

When driving in wet or snowy conditions it is important to remember the following:

  • Slow down in wet weather. The posted speed limits show the maximum speed for driving in good conditions, so if conditions are hazardous drivers should always reduce their speed accordingly. 
  • Increase your braking distance and leave ample room between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you. It takes anywhere from three to 12 times the distance to stop on ice and snow covered roads than on dry roads.
  • Turn on your headlights to increase visibility.
  • Ensure your windscreen wipers are working effectively
  • Ensure that your vehicle is mechanically sound. 
  • Make sure your tyres have ample tread and are inflated to the required level. 
  • Be patient. With wet weather there will inevitably be increased volume of traffic on the road because those who generally walk or ride a bike may be using their vehicle instead. 
  • Allow extra time to travel to your destination. 
  • Ensure smooth starts.   Do not accelerate quickly after stopping. Apply gentle pressure to your accelerator to avoid spinning the drive wheels. 
  • Apply your brakes in a steady and controlled manner. Braking hard and suddenly in wet weather can cause you to lose control. ABS brakes will automatically activate if the wheels begin to lock up. 
  • Steering control must be applied smoothly. Fast and sudden moves of the steering wheel generates forces that may throw your vehicle into a slide as you enter a turn. All vehicles, when on a curved section of highway, are more sensitive to overpowering, over braking, and over steering. 
  • Never ignore a warning sign. Unless you are fully aware of the water depth, flow and any road damage or impediment, do not attempt to cross a flooded road, bridge or causeway. 
  • Pull over if visibility is poor. If heavy rain, hail, sleet or snow make driving too difficult pull over safely to the side of the road and wait until conditions ease. 
  • Check road reports on the media before and during travel. Always heed advice about avoiding roads which may be affected by snow, debris, mud, flooding or a motor vehicle collision.
  • Fit snow chains where required.  

Due to Canberra’s colder climate, motorists often have to tackle foggy and frosty conditions. Good concentration and observation is needed when driving in these to conditions as is some basic common sense. 

  • Turn your lights on as soon as it gets dark. The winter has darker evening and mornings and less daylight. Be aware that pedestrians and cyclists are harder to spot in the dark and may not be visible until they are very close. 
  • Turn your lights on in foggy conditions. Seeing and being seen is crucial in foggy conditions. In fog, reduce your speed and increase your braking distance. This will allow you more time to react to unexpected vehicles or hazards that emerge in the fog and also allows others to react to your presence. Also allow extra time to arrive at your destination. 
  • Pull over if poor visibility. If you have to stop because of thick fog move well off the road into a lay-by area. Ensure that any frost that has accumulated in your vehicle does not affect your driving vision. Both the front and rear windscreen and all side windows must be clear enough to allow you full visibility. Mirrors must also be clear. 
  • Be aware of black ice. Ice sometimes becomes disguised. During the colder months, surface moisture or dew can freeze and become ‘black ice’. Take particular care when travelling on roads that may be affected by ‘black ice’. The road ahead may appear to be black and shiny asphalt. Be suspicious, it may be covered by a thin layer of ice known as black ice. Generally, in the winter, asphalt is a grey-white colour. If you do see a black surface ahead, slow down, and brake smoothly and gently. Proceed with caution.

Check list for winter road trips

When setting off on a trip in winter, always consider packing the following items: 

  • ice-scraper and de-icer
  • high-visibility vest 
  • warning triangle 
  • mobile phone – for use only when parked
  • torch blanket, warm clothes and boots
  • food and drink
  • first-aid kit
  • map/GPS
  • old carpet and spade if driving in snow 
Adapted from http://www.westberks.gov.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=7984&p=0

And always check these essential items: 

  1. Radiators require proper winter coolant. Also, make sure there are no leaks.
  2. Tyres need to have good tread depth. Balding tyres reduce starting traction by 30 - 50%.
  3. Wiper blades must be in good condition to sweep snow and sleet off the windshield. If new blades are installed, check the arm pressure to ensure effective operation.
  4. Heater and defroster, when functioning at their full capacity, will keep your windshield clear and you and your passengers warm.
  5. Lights are particularly important in winter weather to ensure that you are clearly visible to other drivers. Be sure both headlights work on upper and lower beams, and are correctly adjusted. Check that stop, tail, clearance lights and directional signals work properly and are clean.
  6. Brakes need to be in top condition to provide uniform braking.
  7. Muffler and exhaust system should be in good condition and tightly fitted so carbon monoxide does not seep into the interior of the vehicle where it could cause serious illness or death to the driver or occupants.
  8. Battery – cold weather lowers battery power – make sure yours is in good condition, and in case it is necessary, know the proper procedure for using a booster battery.
  9. Spare Wheel – check that your spare wheel is properly inflated and road worthy.
  10. Windows and mirrors – windows should be cleaned to ensure good visibility. Mirrors also should be kept adjusted and clean for good visibility to the rear.
  11. Winter survival kit - use the boot of your vehicle to carry essential emergency equipment including a torch, blankets, jumper cables, first aid kit, a small shovel and ice scraper.     

Adapted from http://web.thsao.on.ca/publications/winter_driving.pdf page 4  

Point-to-point speed cameras

Point-to-point enforcement targets heavy vehicles in NSW, and all vehicles in the ACT, Queensland and Victoria. Overseas research has shown a 50% reduction in fatal and serious injury crashes after Point-to-point enforcement was installed.  Additionally, this technology has also been found to ease congestion, enhance the flow of traffic and cut carbon emissions resulting from less speed variation.

Locations are selected based on several factors including the frequency of heavy vehicle crashes, heavy vehicle speeds and road conditions.

25 locations in NSW currently use this technology and the Monaro Highway is one of them, with the cameras installed between Bredbo and Cooma for covering approx. 34 km length.  Presently the ACT also has two point to point camera systems situated at Hindmarsh Drive and Athllon Drive. 

The technology takes a photograph of a number plate then measures the amount of time the vehicle takes to go between two points before calculating its average speed.     

Younger drivers need winter practice

 It’s all about practice.

Take the opportunity with younger drivers in your family to practice and/or to develop awareness of road conditions and how to handle steering, braking and acceleration in the road conditions.

Our Driving School Team offers a defensive driving course to provide you with knowledge and hands-on-skills training to help keep you safe on the road. Exercises are designed so that drivers can safely explore the effects of speed, road surface and different braking systems when faced with an emergency. A voucher can be purchased from our website. 

If you would like to undertake the defensive driving course please email us or call us on 6259 4053.