Winter Driving

12 Dec 2016

British weather can be hugely variable. Driving in winter can present a host of hazards across the country at different times. A single journey can take you through a range of weather and traffic conditions, so be prepared for all eventualities.

Driving in snow or ice

Reduce your speed and be aware of increased stopping distances – up to 10 times more than normal.  Avoid harsh braking, acceleration and steering. Slow down gently in plenty of time for corners. Get into a low gear earlier than normal and allow your speed to fall naturally. If snow is falling, stop often to clear windows, wheel arches, lights and number plates. Use dipped headlights to increase visibility. Watch out for microclimates – sections of road in sheltered spots such as under bridges or in wooded areas – where ice may have formed early or not thawed like the surrounding roads.

If you get stuck in snow, don’t rev your engine to power out of the rut. This will just dig you in deeper. Rather, try to move slowly back and forward out of the rut using a high gear. If this doesn’t work, try to dig out the snow, and get help for a push. Don’t leave your vehicle – call a breakdown or emergency service.

Driving in rain

Rain is a hazard all year round, but is often heavier in winter and combined with poor light, will greatly reduce your visibility and increase your stopping distances. You’ll need twice the normal distance to come to a halt. Make sure your tyres have a good tread depth and adequate pressure and mind your speed to avoid aquaplaning. If your tyres do lose traction with the road surface, ease off the accelerator and brakes until your speed drops enough for the tyres to regain traction again. If you encounter a flood, don’t attempt to cross if the water seems deep or fast flowing. Look for an alternative route. If you can gauge the depth and feel it is passable, avoid the deepest water which is normally near the kerb. Drive slowly in first gear, but keeping the engine speed high by slipping the clutch. This should stop you from stalling. Try to operate an informal give way system with approaching vehicles to avoid being swamped by bow waves. Always test your brakes when you are clear of the water.

Driving in fog

Fog can be one of the most hazardous weather conditions. A single accident can easily escalate to involve many other vehicles, especially if they are driving too fast or close to one another. Keep your highlights and fog lamps on, and use the demister and windscreen wipers. Switch off distracting noises and open the window a little so you can listen for other traffic. Don’t be tempted to tail other vehicles lights – you will likely be too close to brake safely. Be aware than patches of improved visibility may be temporary, so don’t speed up automatically only to be driving blind a few seconds later.

Driving in strong wind

Keep both hands on the wheel, and drive slowly enough to handle any gusts. Anticipate stronger winds and gusts on exposed stretches or when passing high sided vehicles. Take particular care around cyclists and bikers. There will likely be a lot of debris on the road, so keep your speed down and pay extra attention on country roads. This applies especially after the storm has passed. Things may look clear, but fallen branches and other obstacles may not have been removed.

Driving in winter sun

It may seem counter-intuitive, after looking at the hazards of poor weather, but the sun can also cause difficulties for drivers. The low angle during winter will often be under your sun visor, so if the road turns towards the sun, reduce your speed. Reduce the effect of glare by keeping the inside and outside of your windscreen clean. Sun glasses can help, but make sure you take them off when the sun goes in.

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