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Everything You Need to Know About Winter Tyres & Stopping Distances

Jack Dreyer | Friday 1st October 2021 9:00am

birdseye view of motorway

Every year, as the cold starts creeping in, it’s often surprising how badly prepared we are for it – aside from the occasional “oh it is getting cold isn’t it?” and the broken umbrella in the boot, we’re often caught without much more on than we had in summer. The problem is that, alongside the lack of preparation, many people will continue to drive at absurd speeds or continue to tailgate in high rain or icy conditions. They may also continue driving with summer tyres when it’s consistently near-zero.

In many cases, it’s because people aren’t actually aware of just how much stopping distances are affected in different weather conditions.

Let’s look at how stark the differences are, and what effect different tyres have on them.

What is ‘stopping distance’ & why is it so important?

Two cars having been involved in a front to back collision, most likely from tailgating – not leaving adequate stopping distance.

So, firstly, what exactly is ‘stopping distance’? For a quick refresher, here’s a helpful formula:

Stopping distance = “thinking distance” (your reaction time) + “braking distance” (how far the car travels after the brakes have been applied until it stops).

In the warm, dry months of the year, stopping distance is already an important consideration, but when it comes to wet, cold months it’s even more significant. Did you know that your braking distances can double when driving in wet weather conditions? In hindsight, this may seem pretty obvious since the road is much harder to grip when it’s covered in water, but what the vast majority of drivers don’t realise is that their braking distances are also affected by prevailing temperature and tyre type.

More on tyre types later, but let’s look at stopping distances in different conditions.

Stopping distances more than double in the wet

It’s crucial to know what to expect when driving in terms of stopping distances on the roads – especially motorways when driving at a higher speed.

It takes 23 metres to react and brake in dry conditions at 30mph. At the average speed limit on a motorway of 70mph, it’d take 96 metres to stop in these conditions. With this in mind, to ensure safe braking distance in an emergency, you should be careful to leave enough room between you and the car in front when driving at high speeds.

If you are driving in the rain, you need to leave twice the distance between you and the car in front in case you need to instantly stop at any speed. For example, if you’re driving at 70mph on the motorway, instead of 96 metres stopping distance, you’ll need 192 metres from start to finish. As the average British speed limit is 30mph, it will take 36 metres to stop in wet weather conditions.

Furthermore, while you should always refrain from tailgating, doing so in wet conditions is asking for trouble. A common defence of tailgating is that the car in front will also have to slow down if there’s any problem up ahead. The idea here is that the car in front will slow down at the same rate that you would in the case of an emergency brake. But this fails to account for differences in brake performance, tyre quality, and tyre condition – or the fact that the car in front might be the one that is the ‘problem up ahead’.

The car in front could hit a pothole, could have a tyre blowout, could hit the barrier, or any other manner of problem that causes them to suddenly slow down much faster than you’d expect. Tailgating in any conditions, especially wet or icy ones, is a recipe for disaster.

Stopping distances can be 10 times longer in icy conditions

When you are driving in snowy or icy conditions, the stopping distance compared to dry weather is an astounding 10 times longer.

We don’t ever recommend driving at 70mph when the weather is like this, but what this means is that if you were driving at 70mph, it’d take a staggering 771m to stop.

Even at the speed of 20mph, it would take 120m to stop, so it’s important to be extra vigilant in snowy and icy conditions. Leave a distance between the cars in front and make sure you have the correct winter tyres in preparation for all weather conditions.

Do you feel you are ready to drive in all winter conditions? Watch our full #StoppingDistance video below and let us know on Twitter @Kwik_Fit.

How to improve stopping distances

The best, and really only, way to improve stopping distances is to invest in winter tyres and have them fitted during the coldest months.

In the UK, British motorists don’t do winter tyres very well. Typically, most UK drivers don’t know what winter tyres are, let alone why they’re such a good idea to use in the colder months.

And the few who think they know what winter tyres are for (i.e. “just driving in snow”) are wrong. In fact, winter tyres are for driving in cold weather conditions, not just snowy weather. Of course they’re also much better at handling ice and snow than the standard summer tyres, but that’s not the main reason to use them.

With the help of leading premium tyre manufacturer Continental, we’re determined to try to change UK motorists’ attitudes and help drivers become much more aware of the important role that winter tyres can play in helping to prevent accidents on British roads.

At the end of the day, when it comes to the right tyre selection, it’s all about what best affects your stopping distance.

What are winter tyres?

Cars driving in heavy snow.

Most people think that all tyres look the same. However, on closer inspection it’s clear that there are some visual differences between winter and summer tyres. And, while the treads on winter tyres feature a noticeably different pattern which offers more interlocking grip, the real difference in comparison to summer tyres lies in what you can’t see: winter and summer tyres are made from markedly different rubber compounds.

How so? Winter tyres are much softer, and as a result this allows them to grip cold roads better than summer tyres. Winter tyres really come into their own when the temperature is around 7°C or lower. At this point their special compound – optimised specifically to perform best in cold weather conditions – begins to pull its weight.

Find out about when to replace winter tyres here.

Can't all-season tyres do the job?

Not necessarily. Not every all-season tyre is the same. While they can be useful for city-drivers, cars with low mileage, or in mild winters, these conditions don't fit everyone's day-to-day motoring needs. If this form of driving doesn't fit you, all-season tyres aren't the right choice.

An image of a Continental AllSeasonContact tyre with a snowy forest in the background.

However, if this is your typical experience, an all-season tyre could be the right choice. So which should you go for? All-season tyres are – by definition – a compromise solution between the best qualities of summer (warm weather) and winter (cold weather) tyres. Finding the right balance is a real challenge for the tyre engineers and designers. Put simply, if you choose all-season tyres they need to perform:

  • Better in warm weather than winter tyres
  • Better in cold weather than summer tyres
  • And well on rolling resistance, to help keep fuel bills down.

Ultimately, though, when it comes to the best performance and enhanced driver safety in cold and wet weather conditions, winter tyres will always be superior to all-season tyres.

Speak to Kwik Fit about the benefits of winter tyres

If you want to know more about how to improve your stopping distances in cold and wet weather conditions, or about driver and tyre safety in general, speak with your local Kwik Fit tyre experts. They’ll be happy to provide you with experienced advice, including what’s best for your vehicle, as well as professional fitting solutions and more.

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