As the leaves fall and the nights close in, once again it’s time for us to make sure we’re ready to tackle all that the winter roads throw at us. Winter weather can be harsh and driving conditions can quickly change with poor visibility plus snow and ice on the roads –so be prepared and take extra care when planning your journey.
We’ve put together some simple hints and tips for you to consider this winter which may help you get through the season comfortably and without any mishaps.
To prepare your vehicle for winter driving give it a complete check-up:
– Electrical system (battery, ignition and lights)
– Fluids, radiator/antifreeze/heating/cooling system
It is particularly important to check your tyres are in good order, and have plenty of tread depth. The legal limit is 1.6mm, but you should consider replacing your tyres before they reach this. Recent research has shown that effective well maintained tyres can have a major effect on stopping distances on wet and slippery roads. Weekly checks, or when refuelling, are recommended.
Dirty windows and mirrors can make it hard to see as the low winter sun hits. Make sure you keep them clean and free of ice and snow in colder weather. It goes without saying that your windows are clear and de-misted before you set off. Lights can get filthy with all the spray in winter. Keep them clean and check the bulbs regularly so you’ll be prepared for lower visibility and shorter days. Make sure your vehicle has been serviced properly, that way it won’t let you down even if the weather does. Check your oil and water regularly, and keep your windscreen washer topped up with the correct concentration of cleaner fluid. Are your wiper blades in good condition or do they tend to leave streaks? If so, get them replaced.
When the clocks go back, many people will be travelling home in the dark for the first time in many months. Before starting the engine, it is a good idea to sit in your car for a few moments to allow your eyes to become accustomed to the dark. Remember you’re not the only one in this position, pedestrians may not be wearing proper reflective clothing, so pay extra attention if you’re driving near schools or in rural areas. The sun sits lower in the sky in wintertime, and this can result in glare, so don’t put away your sunglasses yet! Remember also that if the sun is behind you, it’s in the eyes of those drivers coming toward you. Winter weather means we should adjust our driving style to deal with different challenges to the rest of the year:
1. Driving in the rain
When the road is wet, it can take up to twice as long to stop, therefore it makes sense to slow down when it’s raining. If your vehicle loses its grip, or “aquaplanes”, on surface water take your foot off the accelerator to slow down. Do not brake or steer suddenly because you have no control of the steering or brakes.
2. Driving in windy weather
In very windy weather we advise you to take extra care on the roads and plan your journeys by checking the latest weather conditions. High-sided vehicles are particularly affected by windy weather but strong gusts can blow a vehicle, cyclist, motorcyclist, or horse rider off course. This can happen on open stretches of road exposed to strong crosswinds, or when passing bridges or high-sided vehicles.
If you can avoid it, it is advisable not to drive through lying surface water as you might flood your engine. The deepest water is usually nearest the kerb. Don’t drive into flood water that’s moving or more than 10cm (4 inches) deep and let approaching cars pass first. Drive slowly and steadily so you don’t make a bow wave. Test your brakes after passing through the water. If they work then you can drive on at your usual speed providing it’s safe to do so.
Use dipped headlights so other drivers can see you. If it is really foggy (less than 100m visibility) and you can’t see much, switch your fog lights on. Switch them off once conditions have improved so they don’t dazzle drivers behind you. Fog is often patchy so try not to speed up as visibility improves. You could suddenly find yourself back in thick fog further up the road.
5.Driving through ice and snow
Check for snow on the roof of the vehicle before you drive off. Snow can slip down over your windscreen and obscure your view. If your tyres are making virtually no noise this could be a sign you’re driving on ice. If your vehicle skids depress the clutch and turn the steering wheel into the direction of the skid. When the vehicle straightens steer along the road. Don’t brake –it will just lock up your wheels and you’ll skid further.
During bad weather let people know where you are going, your route of travel, and when you expect to arrive.
Plan your route well in advance.
Never drive if fatigued or under the influence of alcohol.
Allow for extra travelling time or even consider delaying a trip if the weather is inclement. Is an alternative method of travel possible? Listen to weather forecasts, and if weather and visibility are hazardous, ask yourself ‘is this trip really necessary?’ Early onset of darkness can affect people in different ways. You may find yourself becoming tired more quickly, so make sure you’re well-rested before starting your journey. Take regular breaks on long trips and if appropriate, arrange to stay overnight in a hotel.
An often overlooked issue of driving in the autumn and winter is the increased chance of coming across nocturnal animals on the road. Hitting even relatively small animals such as foxes and badgers can cause surprising amounts of damage, but colliding with a large animal such as a deer can be catastrophic.
Bear in mind therefore that animals can be present in practically all environments, but be particularly cautious if there is woodland on either side of the road.
If you do see a deer cross in front of you, slow down and be prepared to stop as they rarely travel alone and it is highly likely that more will emerge.
Driving in winter weather poses many challenges, so most of all it pays to be prepared for the worst and hope for the best!
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