If we’re to believe the latest weather forecasts, then it’s probably time to batten down the hatches; well, for the next few weeks at least.
We’re unlikely to be seeing the type of snowstorms that are currently battering the North East coast of America, but we can expect rain, hail, snow, mist and fog. In these conditions road traffic accidents are much more likely to happen. Therefore it’s prudent to think carefully about the way we drive in these hazardous conditions. Different weather conditions create different hazards throughout the winter and in different areas of the country at different times. Any single journey may take us into very different weather, road and traffic conditions, so we need to be prepared for each one.
So here are Harold Stock & Co’s top winter driving tips for staying safe and coping with all the various seasonal hazards the weather might throw at you.
Preparing the vehicle.
- Ensure that your lights are clean and working.
- Ensure that your number plates are visible and readable.
- Ensure that your battery is fully charged and alternator is working correctly.
- Ensure that mirrors are clean and the heater is functioning correctly and blowing hot air.
- Ensure that there is no damage to the windscreen and that the wiper blades are in good working order with no splits.
- Tyre conditions – make sure there is good tread depth and that all your tyres including the spare have the correct pressures.
- Check that the brakes are functioning well.
- Keep all fluids topped up especially screen wash and to the correct concentration to prevent freezing.
- Ensure that your fuel tank is kept as full as possible.
- Check the anti-freeze levels so that you are confident that the coolant system will not freeze up.
Always keep an ice-scraper and a bottle of de-icer in your vehicle.
- Make sure all windows are clear of ice, frost and snow etc. before commencing your journey.
Driving in adverse conditions – general advice.
- According to Rule 226 of the Highway Code you MUST use headlights when visibility is seriously reduced, that is generally when you cannot see for more than 100 metres (328 feet). You may also use front or rear fog lights but you MUST switch them off when visibility improves.
- According to Rule 236 of the Highway Code you MUST NOT use front or rear fog lights unless visibility is seriously reduced (see above for definition of seriously reduced) as they dazzle other road users and can obscure your brake lights. You MUST switch them off as soon as visibility improves.
- According to the Highways Agency, stopping distances can be up to 10 times as far in very wet or icy conditions, so don’t drive too close to the car in front.
- Higher, more exposed areas such as bridges and overpasses will be affected by snow and ice more quickly than other surfaces. Plan your journey to avoid these areas if possible.
- If you’re on a dual carriageway or motorway, avoid making unnecessary changes of lane. Speeding up in icy or very wet conditions could cause you to swerve.
- On windy days, be particularly careful around motorcyclists and cyclists; strong wind can seriously hamper their speed so you need to adjust your judgment. Large vehicles such as Lorries can also waver, so take extra care when passing them.
Driving in rain.
- 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 moves in plenty of time.
- Aquaplaning is caused by driving too fast into surface water. When the tyre tread cannot channel away enough water, the tyre(s) lose contact with the road and your car will float on a wedge of water. Aquaplaning can be avoided by reducing speed in wet conditions. Having the correct tyre pressure and tyre tread depth will maximise your tyres’ ability to maintain their road grip. If it happens, ease off the accelerator and brakes until your speed drops sufficiently for the car tyres to make contact with the road again.
- On flooded roads, avoid the deepest water – which is usually near the kerb.
- Don’t attempt to cross the water if you don’t know the depth.
- If you decide to risk it, drive slowly in first gear but keep the engine speed high by slipping the clutch – this will stop you from stalling.
- Be aware of the bow wave from approaching vehicles – operate an informal ‘give way’ with approaching vehicles.
- Always test your brakes when you are through the flood.
Driving in fog.
- Avoid driving in fog unless your journey is absolutely necessary.
- If you must drive, follow weather forecasts and general advice to drivers in the local and national 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: see Highway Code rules 226 and 236.
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.
- Do not ‘hang on’ to the rear lights of the car in front as you will be too close to be able to brake safely.
- Switch off distracting noises and open the window slightly so that you can listen for other traffic, especially at crossroads and junctions.
- Beware of speeding up immediately if 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.
Driving in snow or ice.
- 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.
- Reduce speed 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.
- If you get stuck in snow, revving your engine to try to power out of the rut will just make the rut worse. Instead, move your vehicle slowly backwards and forwards out of the rut using the highest gear you can.
- If you get caught in a snow drift: don’t leave your vehicle. Call your breakdown service or the emergency services and let help come to you, and don’t run the engine to keep warm.