The Ultimate Guide to Driving in Winter
Rain, wind, sleet, snow and floods are all common conditions you may have to contend with whenever you need to drive somewhere during the winter months in Britain. Do you know how to drive safely no matter what the weather throws at you?
General advice for driving in winter weather
Whatever conditions face you outside, if the roads are going to be more dangerous than usual make sure you follow this advice:
- Do you really need to make that journey? Are there appointments that could be rescheduled, or could you work from home? If you really do need to go out make sure you tune in to a local radio station so you get traffic updates that will alert you to any danger zones or closed roads.
- Always completely clear your windows, whether this is removing ice, snow or demisting. The Highway Code states it is illegal to drive with poor visibility.
- NEVER pour boiling water on your windscreen to clear it, you are more likely to crack it! Another bad idea is to the leave the wipers on and let them do the hard work, you are more likely to burn the motor out and need to change a fuse before you go anywhere.
- Keep a pair of 'driving shoes' in your car to change into before you drive. This could be a comfortable pair of trainers or pumps that will provide a pair of dry, sensible footwear for driving in winter conditions.
SNOW & ICE
- Don't forget to clear snow from the roof of your car. If you don't and brake suddenly, all that snow will end up covering your windscreen and leaving you unable to see the road ahead
- Move away in second gear, this will help reduce slip. Many cars now have a 'winter mode' which if selected will do this for you
- Accelerate as gently as possible. Changing up gears as quickly as possible and keeping revs low to improve traction
- Leave 10X the normal gap between yourself and the car in front. Stopping distances will be greatly increased in snowy conditions
- If you are travelling on an untreated road, exercise caution if you are driving on existing tyre tracks. Compacted snow is more likely to be icy and so more slippery than fresh snow
- When approaching a bend make sure you brake before you begin steering round the turn to reduce the possibility of skidding
- If visibility reduces to below 100m, use your fog lights but remember to turn them off again when conditions improve
- Always use dipped headlights during daylight hours
- Operate all vehicle controls (accelerator, brake, steering wheel) as slowly and smoothly as possible
- If driving uphill, make sure there is plenty of room between you and the vehicle ahead to make sure you do not need to stop or change gear on the hill, but can ascend at a continuous speed
- If driving downhill, stick to a low gear and try to avoid any unnecessary braking by leaving a good distance between your car and the car in front
- If you do skid, gently steer into the skid. Do not take your hands off the steering wheel and do not slam your foot on the brakes - these actions may increase the severity of the skid
- Consider snow socks, these are textile liners that fit quickly and easily around your tyre to add another layer betweeen the snow and tyre, and so improve grip and traction in conditions where the snow is shallow
- Consider snow chains, these chains fit around your existing tyre and can be used in deep snow to improve grip. However, snow chains must be removed once the conditions improve, failure to do this risks damage to both your vehicle and the road surface
- Handy Tip - if you are stuck in the snow try placing your car mats underneath the driving wheels, this may help give you a little extra grip and be back on your way!
RAIN & FLOODS
- Use your headlights, even in daylight hours
- Use your foglights if visibility is reduced to below 100m, but remember to turn them off when the conditions improve
- Your stopping distance will be increased due to the wet road surface, so make sure you leave 2X the usual space between you and the car in front
- Leave even more space between your vehicle and the one ahead if that vehicle is large, i.e a lorry or caravan, these vehicles are likely to create more surface spray that can reduce visibility of the road ahead
- Keep speed down, water on the road surface can cause aquaplaning, where a layer of water sits between your tyres and the road. If this happens your steering will feel light. You must ease off the accelerator until you feel you have regained full control of your vehicle
- Avoid driving through any standing water. Water with a depth of 60cm is enough to float the average car and 30cm of flowing water is enough to move the average car
- Never attempt to drive through floodwater that is over 10cm deep, or that is moving
- If you do need to drive through standing water, first make sure your exit is clear so you do not need to stop, brake or change gear. Proceed slowly so you do not make a bow wave.
- Once exiting from standing water be sure to test your brakes
- If you do break down, DO NOT pop the bonnet and leave it open. The rain will soak electrical components and make if much more difficult to get started again
- If you keep your speed low, you will not be blown as far off course by a gust
- Twigs and small branches on the road may be an indicator of larger obstruction further ahead
- Hold the steering wheel firmly at all times, wind tends to come in gusts rather than a steady pressure, so don't be caught out
- Beware of cyclists and motorcyclists as they are more vulnerable to being knocked off course by a gust of wind meaning they swerve into the road. Leave extra space if overtaking
- If a tree is partially fallen it may hang above the reach of your headlights, so make sure you are scanning the entire road ahead for danger
- High sided vehicles are also more likely to be blown out of their lane by a gust so allow extra space if overtaking
- Remember - the more exposed a road is, the more likely your car is to feel the effects of gusts
- Choose your parking space wisely, avoid parking under trees that may end up on the roof of your car
- Use fog lights if visibility has reduced to below 100m, remember to turn them off again when conditions improve
- Use dipped headlights at all other times
- DO NOT use full beam headlights, the fog will reflect this strong light back reducing visibility further
- Driving slowly will give you more time to react - fog may mask any other object on the road until you are almost on top of it, leaving you only a small amount of time to steer/brake
- Look out for other vehicles, other drivers may not be using their headlights
- Increase the usual 2 second gap to 4 seconds
- DO NOT rely on auto headlights they may not recognise the foggy conditions and so may not turn on
- DO NOT rely on daytime running lights, on most vehicles these lights will only be at the front, leaving the rear of your vehicle without lights and so less visible to other road users
- Open your windows make full use of your sense of hearing, in foggy conditions you may hear another vehicle before you see it
Do you have any winter driving tips?
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