Why does this seem to happen with such monotonous regularity in Britain?
The simple answer is preparation by individuals.
I've just returned from the Alps where we took a day trip to Italy and came out of rainy France into snowy Italy. 3 inches of snow was lying on the car within the hour it took to get to a car park. This was snow like it meant it.
The traffic was still moving on most roads, but it did come to a bit of a halt for a couple of reasons;
- The roads with the least traffic had the most snow
- Unprepared vehicles were causing traffic jams
The first thing is quite obvious... if there's no traffic there's nothing to move the snow, and the rate at which it was falling meant that the snow on back streets was getting quite thick.
The second thing was perhaps less obvious.
In the UK we generally have tyres on our cars which ensure a nice quiet ride on the roads. This usually means that there is part of the tyre in constant contact with the ground. Sometimes this takes the form of solid bands around the circumference of the tyre, meaning that you can't stop in the snow.
Snow tyres have a cross cut pattern (which makes more noise on dry roads) with lateral lines to cut into loose and hard packed snow. This means you can both accelerate and brake.
Cars in the Alps generally carry snow chains. Some of these looked quite cheap, and others came in the form of a cover you put round your wheel, like a seat cover for a bar stool, with the chains part of this. this is to protect alloy wheels from chains. Even buses use snow chains.
More cars in this area have 4 wheel drive. I don't mean there are more Land Rovers, I mean that manufacturers have a larger range of vehicles equipped with 4 wheel drive - I've seen 4x4 Citroen Saxos, lots of Fiat Pandas and even Mercedes E-Class equipped with 4Matic. This coupled with suitable tyres means that there is almost no need for snow chains, and definitely no need for large 4x4s.
Unprepared vehicles (like some delivery vans with the wrong tyres, and large HGVs towing full trailers up steep hills) still stopped and ended up by the side of the road, but there weren't too many, and there was space to get past. They still have propblems sometimes, and some of the smaller roads were closed.
What do we do in the UK?
We complain that there's not enough grit on the road, then ask the question 'How do they cope in the rest of the world?'
Here's the lesson - please read it and stop complaining about there not being enough grit!