Winter Weather Preparation
Driving Safe in Winter Weather
As UK temperatures plummet, it’s important to be prepared by making sure your vehicle is in good working condition and add plenty of time for your planned journey, so you’re less likely to rush to make up for delays. Accident rates are much higher over the winter, as daytime hours are shorter and driving conditions become more of a challenge. However, life still goes on and sometimes driving cannot be avoided, especially during busy weekdays. This useful guide on being a safer driver in the snow and ice could minimise your chances of having an accident – even if you’re a skilled driver.
Before your Journey...
Do not attempt to drive or reverse until you can see clearly through all your car windows. In the morning, time can be very strained however it’s essential ice is cleared from the windscreen effectively without causing damage. Using boiling water may be a quick fix to melting the ice and snow but the sudden change in temperature on the glass could likely make the screen crack, especially if there is a small chip which has gone unnoticed. The most effective way of de-icing your windows is a good old-fashioned manual scraper. This helps shift the ice quickly, without trying to de-ice by running the windscreen wipers on full speed, as this causes excessive wear to the blades.
Have you ever considered how the length of your car journeys effects how well your battery is charged?
Car batteries usually have a life of five to seven years, however the cause of many breakdowns throughout the year is due to battery related issues. Making shorter journeys means the car battery doesn't fully charge so, before setting off in the cold have a check over your car to make sure brake lighting and wipers are fully functioning. Also remember to top up the car radiator with anti-freeze whilst keeping an eye on oil and screen wash levels to make sure the car has everything it needs to run well and reliably – especially in adverse weather.
Remember Your Speed
It’s obviously essential to always be aware of your speed and adhere to the speed limits on every road, however stopping on icy roads can take up to 10 times longer – which is why reducing and controlling speed in the winter is vital. Not only your speed, but spacing yourself well between traffic allows for longer stopping distances when experiencing unexpected braking from the vehicle in front - it is recommended to triple the usual distance between you and the car in front on a good day.
Driving in the Snow...
Driving in the snow is about making your manoeuvres gently and controlled. Also consider these:
The shape and incline of a road are also areas which can be very dangerous when combined with speed. Braking on a bend is unsafe. It can cause centrifugal force to continue to pull you outwards, and with little grip between the tyre and road control can easily be lost. When approaching the bend, brake before turning to avoid a wheel spin – do not panic if your car does lose grip take your foot off the accelerator and face your wheels in the direction you want to travel in.
What if I Get Stuck?
There are a few ways to get yourself out an area you’re stuck in, the Institute of Advanced Motorists recommend that you turn your wheels from side to side to push the snow surrounding your wheels out of the way and resist from trying over and over to move forward if you're not moving, as the wheels will spin on the spot and dig deeper. Instead of this, try switching between driving forward and reverse, lightly touching the accelerator to 'shuffle' your way out.
If the snow is thickening or there is a build-up of snow and ice surrounding the tyres use a shovel to clear out the packed in snow and dig out a small route – cat litter or gravel works well here to give some traction and extra grip on the slippery surface or maybe an old rag or sack out of the boot? Once on the move again, try not to stop until you have reached firmer ground!
Driving in the Wind & Rain
Similarly to snow and ice, your stopping distance should also increase when driving in the rain. Low visibility combined with reduced grip needs to always be remembered, and space should be given extra cautiously between the front of your vehicle and the back of another.
Hydroplaning happens when driving too fast into surface water which gathers in the road. Putting it simply, your tyres will skim over on the top layer of water as they haven’t had chance to make contact with the road surface due to high speed. This has potential to make steering and braking difficult and for a short time you have no control of your vehicle as the tyres are not touching the road.
So, in essence; Take your time, turn on your lights so other road users can see you and give other vehicles more space.
Wind may seem like a minor risk, but needs special consideration. Strong gusts of wind can make a car shake and often happen when driving through wide open spaces. Areas for concern include highways, and tunnels which can ‘funnel’ the wind, sometimes doubling its strength.
Information includes references to:
Green Flag Ltd - Winter Driving - How to 2019
Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) - Tips from IAM RoadSmart 2016
RAC.co.uk - Winter Driving Advice - be prepared drive safely. 2019
ROSPA: The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents - Winter Driving Guide 2017