How to stay safe whilst driving in winter weather conditions
Is it just me, or does the weather keep changing its mind every other day? One day my car is swaying in high winds, with the wipers going at 100 mph to clear the downpour of rain, and another day I’m scraping ice off my windscreen!
So what to do? We can’t control the weather (sadly) but we can control and adapt our driving to cope with what the British weather throws at us. In this blog I’m going to look at simple and sensible tips to combat the hazards of winter driving, whether you drive as part of your job or are just driving to and from work.
- Plan your route, avoiding roads which are known to be especially hazardous. In snow or icy weather take main routes – they’ll probably be busier but they’re also more likely to be gritted.
- To make sure you’re prepared for any eventuality, carry out these quick checks before you set off on your journey:
- All lights are working
- Tyres are free of defects, are well inflated and have a minimum tread depth of 2.5mm
- Wipers are working properly
- Windscreen washer is topped up with winter screen wash
- Keep a scraper and some de-icer to hand
- Mobile phone is charged and has your breakdown number stored in it
- Pack an emergency breakdown kit: snack bars and water, torch, boots/wellies, hi-vis jacket and a shovel for snowy conditions
- Take extras of any medication you take regularly.
Driving in rain
Heavy rain makes it harder to see the road and its markings, road signs and other vehicles. If it’s raining on your journey, you should bear the following in mind:
- Check that the wipers are in good condition, screen wash is full and use the heater or demister to clear misty windows before setting off
- Slow down and widen the distance between you and other drivers to avoid spray and increase reaction time
- If there’s water on the road, ease off the accelerator a bit and hold the steering wheel firmly to steer straight. Don’t use cruise control in very wet conditions.
Driving when windy or near floods
Try to avoid driving through floods by planning your route (driving on higher roads and avoiding known problem areas) and checking to see if any flood warnings have been issued. Remember that water on the road may seem shallow but could be much deeper than it appears.
- When driving through water, it’s important to keep the revs high. So in a manual you should keep the clutch partly engaged. In deep water, don’t take your foot off the accelerator. This will avoid a partial vacuum being created which sucks water into the exhaust, affecting the engine. This can also happen by changing gear (which is why you often see cars stuck in flood water).
- After driving through water, apply the brakes lightly to dry them out.
- Be aware of any wind warnings issued and remain vigilant, holding the steering wheel firmly to steer straight. Remember to give cyclists, motorcyclists, buses and lorries plenty of room as they’re more liable to sway off course in high winds.
Driving in snow and ice
Look out for weather warnings and only drive if your journey is necessary. Plan your route to avoid particularly hazardous roads.
- Use 2nd gear for setting off, driving gently. Using high gears improves control of the vehicle but avoid high revs and driving too fast. Keep a steady pace - losing too much speed can cause the vehicle to lose momentum.
- Remember to widen the distance between you and other drivers (x10) to increase reaction time. Keep vigilant and plan ahead, reducing your speed early around bends or down slopes and making smooth changes to your driving speed.
- Skidding – take your feet off the pedals and steer into the direction of the skid. Only brake if you can’t steer the vehicle out of trouble. If the wheels lock when you brake, release the brake pedal and then reapply it gently.
- Breaking down and getting stuck - If your vehicle is stuck in snow, don’t keep pressing the accelerator when the wheels are spinning because this makes it worse. Instead turn the wheels from side to side to push the snow away and then try going forward. If this doesn’t work, shovel snow from around the wheels and under the vehicle, then try moving again by shifting forward and backwards. If you need to leave the car, put on your hi-vis jacket and stand a safe distance from the traffic (behind the barrier on motorways).
Driving in fog
Fog makes it harder to see the road and its markings, road signs and other vehicles.
- Avoid watery areas as fog often collects around these first.
- Use dipped headlights and only use fog lights when visibility is less than 100 metres. Use the air conditioning to reduce window misting.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Proceed carefully and brake early to warn other road users. At junctions, lower the window to listen for traffic.
Driving on a bright day
On bright winter days, the low sun can seriously reduce visibility and can be very dangerous.
- Keep sunglasses in the glovebox all year round and make sure the windows and mirrors are clean to avoid dazzle from the sun catching dirt on the glass.
- Reduce your speed and be aware that other drivers may not be able to see you. Check for vehicles in your blind spots and dip mirrors to avoid being dazzled through them.
If you’ve found this article useful, please share it with your work colleagues, friends and family and help keep everyone safe this winter.