Driving in the winter is different than in other times of the year. Bad weather and longer periods of darkness (especially after the clocks go back at the end of October) makes driving more hazardous. Sometimes conditions can be extreme, with prolonged periods of heavy snow and floods.
In very bad conditions, avoid driving completely, unless you absolutely have to make the journey and driving is the only option.
Prepare your vehicle
It’s a good idea to have your vehicle fully serviced before winter starts and have the anti-freeze tested. If you can’t have it serviced, then do your own checks:
- Lights are clean and working
- Battery is fully charged
- Windscreen, wiper blades and other windows are clean and screen wash is topped up
- Tyre condition, tread depth and pressure (of all the tyres - including the spare)
- Brakes are working well
- Fluids are kept topped up: anti-freeze and oil
It’s also a good idea to stock up on de-icer, windscreen wash, oil and anti-freeze at the start of winter.
When extreme weather is forecast, keep an emergency kit in your car, especially if you’re going on a long journey. If you must drive in these conditions, you should carry:
- Tow Rope
- A shovel
- Wellington boots
- A hazard warning triangle
- De-icing equipment
- First aid kit (in good order)
- A working torch
- A car blanket
- Warm clothes
- Emergency Rations (including hot drink in a flask – non-alcoholic, of course)
- Mobile Phone (fully charged)
Driving in snow or ice
If you find yourself driving in snow or on icy or snow-covered roads, adapt your driving to these conditions:
- Reduce your speed. The chances of skidding are much greater and your stopping distance will increase massively.
- Only travel at a speed at which you can stop within the distance you can see to be clear. Speed limits are the maximum in ideal conditions; in difficult conditions, they can often be too fast.
- Avoid harsh braking and acceleration, or sharp steering.
- Always reduce your speed smoothly and in plenty of time on slippery surfaces.
- Slow down in plenty of time before bends and corners.
- Braking on an icy or snow-covered bend is extremely dangerous. The centrifugal force will continue to pull you outwards and the wheels will not grip very well. This could cause your vehicle to spin.
- To brake on ice and snow without locking your wheels, get into a low gear earlier than normal, allow your speed to fall and use your brakes gently.
- Increase the gap between you and the vehicle in front. You may need up to TEN TIMES the normal distance for braking.
- Keep your vehicle well-ventilated. The car heater turned up full can quickly make you drowsy.
- In snow, stop frequently to clean the windows, wheel arches, lights and number plates.
- Visibility will probably be reduced, so use dipped headlights.
- During wintry weather, road surfaces are often wet and/or covered in frost and ice or snow. But this does not occur uniformly. A road will often have isolated patches of frost or ice after most of the road has thawed – this commonly occurs under bridges.
Rain reduces your ability to see and greatly increases the distance required to slow down and stop. Remember that you will need about TWICE your normal braking distance. Use windscreen wipers, washers and dipped headlights; drive smoothly and plan your manoeuvres in plenty of time.
Avoid driving in fog unless your journey is absolutely necessary as it can be one of the most dangerous weather conditions. An accident involving one vehicle can quickly involve others, especially if they are driving too close to one another.
If you must drive:
- Follow weather forecasts and general advice to drivers in the media.
- Allow plenty of extra time for your journey.
- Check your car before you set off. Make sure everything is in good working order, especially the lights.
- Reduce your speed - and keep it down.
- Switch on headlights and fog lamps if visibility is reduced.
- If you can see the vehicles to your rear, the drivers behind can see you – switch off your rear fog lamps to avoid dazzling them.
- Use the demister and windscreen wipers.
- Beware of speeding up immediately when visibility improves slightly. In patchy fog, you could find yourself ‘driving blind’ again only moments later.
- If you break down, inform the police and get the vehicle off the road as soon as possible. Never park on the road in fog and never leave it without warning lights of some kind if it is on the wrong side of the road.