When it comes to wet and cold braking, there’s one way to get to grips with stopping distances

When it comes to wet and cold braking, there’s one way to get to grips with stopping distances

31 Jan

By Tom Boote

While the previous few years of winter have been relatively mild, there’s no denying that this year’s has got off to a very cold start. As a result, drivers up and down the country have experienced travel chaos, resulting in schools being closed and the UK generally grinding to a halt.

But a quick look across the Channel – where the weather’s been equally cold – shows life carrying on as usual. How come? What are they doing differently to us? Why does this seem to always happen?

There’s a simple answer. When it comes to driving, unlike our continental cousins, in the UK we just don’t do winter tyres. That’s it.

Winter tyres are simply not ingrained in our culture. In the main, most people don’t know what they are, let alone why winter tyres are such a good idea. The reality is that very few people realise that they’re for cold weather driving, not just snowy weather. Sure, they’re also much better at handling ice and snow too, but this is a secondary benefit. First and foremost it’s about safe driving in cold conditions.

Winter tyres are for primarily for cold weather driving, not just for when it may snow.

Premium tyre manufacturers, like Continental, have been trying to educate UK drivers for many years about the benefits of winter tyres, and the role they play in preventing road accidents in cold weather conditions. So how exactly do they help you drive safer? Simple. They provide you with dramatically reduced stopping distances.

What is my ‘stopping distance’?

If you need a quick reminder, here’s a helpful formula:

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

Your braking distance can double when in wet weather conditions. That makes sense, since the road is much harder to grip when it’s covered in water, right? However, what you might not realise is that your braking distance is also affected by temperature and tyre type.

To better appreciate the qualities of winter tyres, it’s important that you understand what they really are.

Okay, what exactly are winter tyres?

All tyres look the same, right? That’s the belief of most drivers, but in fact there are significant differences between winter and summer tyres. Visually, if you look closely, you can see that winter tyre treads are cut in a different pattern to summer tyres, and this provide drivers more interlocking grip. But the really important difference is what you can’t see. What really matters is that winter and summer tyres are made from completely different rubber compounds.

What’s the difference?

Winter tyres are made from a much softer compound, and as a result they are better able to grip cold roads. They really come into their own when the temperature is 7°C or below – cold weather. And, while they’re also much better at handling snowy and icy conditions, that’s not the main reason for fitting them. Not at all. The primary reason is so that you can stop quickly and safely when you need to in cold weather conditions.

If you’ve never used winter tyres before, it can be a little difficult to fully appreciate the difference in cold weather performance compared to regular summer tyres. So take a look at this short video – made in partnership between Continental and Mercedes-Benz – to see just how much of a difference winter tyres make on cold, wet roads.


What about choosing all-season tyres?

While it’s true that all-season tyres are ideal for some drivers, for the vast majority it simply isn’t the case. If you happen to live in a part of the UK where the winters really are milder, and you’re mainly driving in town and not doing excessive mileage, all-seasons are good. But that’s not the way most drivers use their cars, right?

If this is the way you drive, and an all-season tyre’s the right choice for you, the question to ask is which should you go for? And here, it’s quality that really counts. All-season tyres are – by definition – a compromise solution, and as such they pose a real challenge for tyre engineers and designers. Simply put, to maximise your driver safety, all-season tyres need to perform:

  • better in warm weather conditions than the best winter tyres
  • better in cold weather conditions than the best summer tyres
  • well on rolling resistance, to help keep your fuel bills down
Most all-season tyres cannot meet all three criteria, but Continental’s AllSeasonContact is one of a handful available that can genuinely claim to do so – and more. In fact it scores “best in class” for rolling resistance, significantly helping to reduce fuel costs.

Speak to your local Protyre experts

As with all aspects of tyre safety, if you want to know more about improving your stopping distances, contact your local Protyre garage. Our tyre professionals offer impartial, expert advice, including what’s best for your vehicle, expert fitting solutions, and much more.

Find My Protyre

Subscribe to our newsletter

Receive Protyre offers and our latest news