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Onset of winter: increased risk of accidents in low-lying areas

Bild: Keystone
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AXA's data show that the number of accidents can double on days when road conditions are dangerous. A large number of accidents can be prevented by adapting your driving style and fitting winter tires.

When it snows in the low-lying areas of Switzerland, children aren't the only ones excited about it. However, drivers need to be aware of the hazardous road conditions that often come with the onset of winter in the lowlands. "On an average day, we record around 500 claims, but this figure can double when a change in the weather takes drivers by surprise," says Patrick Villiger, Head of Motor Vehicle Claims at AXA.

Adapting your driving style can prevent many accidents

Accidents can happen quickly when drivers are caught unawares by a change in the weather and don't adapt their driving style to the more dangerous road conditions. The risk of black ice on bridges and on roads through wooded areas increases when the outside temperature falls to 3°C or lower. High humidity or fog can create a film of moisture on the surface of the asphalt, which becomes dangerous at temperatures around freezing point. "Drivers need to be especially careful in conditions like those," explains Michael Pfäffli, Head of Research and Prevention at AXA.

Sudden fog causes lots of accidents

Poor visibility poses an additional challenge for drivers. "Rain, snow, and fog reduce your car's grip on the road, and they often restrict visibility quite severely," says Pfäffli. Fog in particular can thicken from one minute to the next in some places. "Switzerland's worst pileups have been caused by sudden fog, but keeping a safe distance and adjusting your speed can help to prevent them," stresses the expert.

Winter tires with plenty of tread should be fitted to your car from October to Easter

To make matters worse, many drivers still haven't had winter tires fitted to their car by the time the first snow arrives. This, together with failing to adapt their driving style, is one of the main reasons why accident numbers shoot up the moment winter makes an entrance. While not fitting winter tires doesn't necessarily qualify as gross negligence, Pfäffli strongly advises getting them on your car by the end of October at the latest: "Winter tires should be fitted to your car from October to Easter." In addition, the 4x4x4 rule states that you should use four identical winter tires that are no more than four years old and have a tread depth of at least four millimeters. "Winter tires with plenty of tread are essential when it comes to safety," adds the expert.

Incidentally, if you want to avoid accidents, you should take extra-special care on Fridays between 5pm and 6pm. The Federal Roads Office (FEDRO) says that more accidents happen during this hour than at any other time.

9 tips for driving safely in the winter 

  • Check your winter tires – they should have at least 4 mm of tread.
  • Ask your garage to perform a winter check.
  • Keep safety equipment, an ice scraper, and snow chains in your car.
  • Pull away gently (especially on snow or ice).
  • Always look ahead and keep a safe distance from the car in front.
  • Avoid swerving suddenly.
  • Think about weather conditions when choosing your route.
  • Set off in good time and allow plenty of time for your journey.
  • Take regular breaks on long journeys.

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