With the winter months coming soon, are we prepared? Even the most experienced drivers can find winter driving challenging. One thing is certain for UK winters is that they are becoming unpredictable. With winters such as 2010 when we had snow so deep it closed most of the country over night.
So what will this winter give us? Snow, ice, rain, fog, and gale force winds or a sunny day that just has a cold wind chill in the air? What ever it brings, it definitely exacerbates the already crowded roads. As well as the weather, we also have the darker evenings and mornings to contend with, so in rush hours we have the morning darkness into very low sun, and the evening low sun into darkness, making visibility challenging. This is why accidents increase in the winter months.
So it makes sense to wise up on winter driving to be prepared for it when it comes. Most of it is common sense, but you should always be ready to take that extra care when your driving to reduce the risk of injury to you and others sharing the roads with you.
How Can You Prepare?
The winter conditions will take extra toll on your vehicle’s wear and tear. So adding in some extra daily checks will make your vehicle safer and it will help to prevent your vehicle breaking down. This will also avoid unexpected delays as much as possible in the worst of the weather conditions.
What Should You Check For?
Normally, you would go to your car, put in the boot what you need then get in, check your seat, your mirrors, and you have made some effort to clear the windscreen, trying to sort out the de-mister before getting out the scraper to clear the ice. Let’s go through what else you can check for:
As usual, you should check you seat, mirrors and steering is all set up right. You can set your heaters to start to clear the windscreen then scrape off the ice from all the windscreen (not just a bit in front of the drivers view point). Moreover, you should be checking the tyres, all electrics, steering wheel, foot brakes, parking brake, and airbag light. Are your mirrors clean and have a good view from the drivers seat? Is there any corrosion around the battery terminals?
Why Are You Checking These Things?
You’re ensuring that your vehicle is as safe as can be on the roads but also going to do the job the vehicle is required to do. But it should also be answering these questions for you:
- Does everything work?
- Is everything secure?
- Will you have correct and proper control over your vehicle?
- Is there anything damaged or missing?
- Does your vehicle create a nuisance?
- Could anything harm anyone?
Have you got a winter emergency kit? Maybe a good idea to pack one! You never know if a breakdown or crash on a motorway will cause hours of delays. You should include in the emergency kit: warm clothes, blanket, food and flask of a hot drink, a torch and a shovel.
What Else Can You Do to Ensure Safe Winter Driving?
Make sure to check on weather updates. It is good to know local radio station frequencies so you can get updates on local weather and national weather. If the weather is to take a bad turn you really should consider how important that journey actually is: can you put if off if the weather is going to be bad?
Whilst out on the road keep an eye open for signs displaying information about adverse weather conditions and reduced speed limits or road closures.
What to Do in Certain Winter Weather Conditions
In Fog – Use dipped headlights. If visibility is less than 100 metres, use front fog lights. And remember, fog can be patchy, so try not to speed up if conditions improve – you could run back into it a few miles further down the road.
Rain – If your vehicle starts to aquaplane, don’t go for the brakes, take your foot off the accelerator and slow down gradually.
Snow and ice – It can be hard to tell if a road is icy. If your tyres are making virtually no noise on the road you could well be driving on ice. If you are on sheet ice, don’t brake as this will make you skid further. If you find yourself behind a gritter or snow plough, only overtake it if it is safe to do so. And remember there may well be uncleared snow on the road ahead.
Gale force winds – You’ll need no reminding that high-sided vehicles are particularly affected by windy weather. But don’t forget that vulnerable road-users such as cyclists, motorcyclists and horse riders can be particularly affected by strong cross-winds on exposed roads.
On the Road
When you’re on the road, always be aware of what the weather’s doing. It can change quickly and dramatically. And if it does turn rough you’ll need to change the way you drive – even on roads you know well.
Reduce your speed – Poor visibility, wet or icy roads mean that it will take you longer to react to danger. So take your foot off the gas.
Open up a gap – The distance between your vehicle and the one in front is your safety buffer. Remember it takes twice as long to stop on a wet road and ten times longer on an icy one. So in wintry conditions leave a longer gap than usual between you and the vehicle in front.
Smoothly does it – Don’t brake harshly or accelerate quickly. Carry out all manoeuvres slowly and with extra care.
Light up – It’s ok, we’re not advocating smoking in the car or van! But on winter days, even when weather conditions don’t seem that bad, visibility can be an issue, so it makes sense to get your lights on
If the weather really closes in on you and you grind to a halt in thick snow, don’t spin your wheels in an effort to get out.
Putting some old carpet under the drive wheels will give them something to grip on and should help to get you moving again. If this fails and you find yourself stuck with your vehicle, keep warm by running the engine and heater every ten minutes. It’s also a good idea to keep the circulation going by moving around. Remember to call your manager or supervisor to let them know what’s happened.
Useful Sources of Information
For up to the minute information on road conditions on major routes:
The Met Office provides information on weather conditions throughout the UK. In addition, local radio stations give regular bulletins and information on road conditions in their area. For further and more detailed information on driving in bad weather visit the Highways Agency.