There are many driving issues that are unique to the winter months. Ice and snow, floods and low sunlight all bring challenges to even the most experienced driver. Read on for some helpful tips on how to drive safely this season.
First things first, check the weather forecast before you venture out. So many of us head off on long journeys without knowing what to expect on the roads, assuming that everything will be fine. But a sunny morning can easily turn into a wet or even snowy afternoon. Safety comes first, so be prepared to change your plans.
Before you set off... Take a few minutes to check your car. These pointers are important even in milder conditions:
Tyres – make sure there is at least 2mm of tread depth and that they are inflated to the manufacturer’s recommended pressure. Your tyres are your car’s only connection with the road so they must be in good condition and correctly inflated for good traction and grip.
Lights – check they’re all working and replace blown bulbs promptly. You’ll probably be doing more driving in the dark at this time of year.
Cooling system – make sure there is anti-freeze in the cooling system. Check instructions to ensure you use the correct amount, or ask for it to be topped up during a service.
Windscreen – top up the washer bottle, using plenty of screen wash to prevent it from freezing. Replace worn wipers too, you’ll be using them frequently to remove spray and salt from your windscreen.
Windows – defrost before you drive off! Don’t make do with a patch just large enough to peer through, do a thorough job, including side windows. Remove snow from your roof too, to prevent it from sliding down onto your windows as you drive. Keep a scraper and defrosting spray in your car and consider covering the windscreen overnight to speed up the job in the morning.
While you're at it, clean your lights and number plate. An illegible number plate can land you with a fine.
YOUR WINTER DRIVING KIT
Hopefully you won’t need any of this, but it’s advisable to have the following items in your car over the winter months, just in case:
• High visibility jacket
• Warning triangle
• First aid kit
• De-icer and screenwash
• Jump leads
• Bottle of water and snacks
• Phone charger
• Coat, even for short journeys
• Sturdy footwear
• Piece of carpet to put under your tyres if you get stuck in the snow
• Snow shovel
So, how DO you drive on snow and ice?
• Don’t rush. Avoid high revs but don’t drive so slowly that you lose momentum and get stuck
• Pull away in second gear to give you more control over the vehicle. Ease your foot off the clutch. If you drive an automatic, consult the handbook, as it might give you advice
• Brake gently. Easy does it
• If you start to skid, take your feet off the pedals and steer as safely as possible
• Stick to main roads as much as possible as they are more likely to have been gritted
• Have your headlights on when driving in snow
• Stopping distances can be up to ten times longer than in normal conditions. Stay well away from the car in front
If you breakdown...
Under most circumstances, you should stay with your vehicle and wait for help to arrive. If you do need to abandon it, make sure it's clearly visible to other drivers and that it's not causing an obstruction. Then, before leaving the area, notify the local police and give them the exact location and a telephone number where they can reach you.
How about driving in fog?
Maintain a greater distance between you and the car in front
Use your windscreen wipers
If you spot a ‘fog’ signal but the road is clear, it’s probably warning you of sudden pockets or patches of fog
Don’t rely on the tail lights of the car in front, as these can give a false sense of security
Get familiar with how your foglights work so you aren’t scrabbling around at the last minute
According to the Highway Code, only use your fog lights if visibility is reduced to 100 metres (that’s roughly the length of a football pitch). Keep your lights dipped, don’t use full beams. Fog reflects the light back, reducing visibility even further
Remember to turn your fog lights off again when the fog has cleared. We’ve all been there: stuck behind a car with the fog lights blinding you and no fog to be seen. And don’t use them for drizzle or rain
Driving in low sunshine
Surprisingly, this can be one of the biggest hazards for winter driving. Keeping the inside of your windscreen clean makes an enormous difference. Keep a pair of sunglasses in the car and use the sun visors if you’re driving when the sun is low.
During the winter months and into spring, flood waters can appear as a result of heavy rain or melting snow. Wherever possible, avoid driving directly through puddles – they might be deeper than you think. If you can’t avoid it, slow down and be aware of the pull of deep water on your wheels as you drive through. Test your brakes before building up speed again.