Driving in winter can be difficult, and fog frequently makes the dark mornings and evenings more dangerous. It is important to know exactly how to adapt your driving behaviour to suit the weather conditions at the time.
Richard Gladman, Head of Driving and Riding Standards at IAM RoadSmart, is offering his expert knowledge on keeping yourself and other road users safe over the winter months.
Check before you travel
Checking the weather forecast before you set off on your travels will help to ensure you are fully prepared for the conditions that may impact your journey. Severe weather can present different challenges, and it’s not just winter weather which can wreak havoc on the roads. Rain at any time of year can be dangerous. In fact, 9 out of 10 weather-related deaths and serious injuries on the roads take place in the rain. With today’s technology and the right App or website, most weather forecasts or warnings are communicated ahead of time allowing you to be prepared.
Keep your distance
When you’re driving in wintery conditions, it’s important to substantially increase the stopping distance between you and the vehicle ahead, and approach every junction intending to stop well before the stop or give way line. According to advice from the Highway Code, it can take up to 10 times as long to stop in icy conditions.
Higher the better
Driving your car in a higher gear will help you avoid unwanted wheelspin. If it’s icy and you’re struggling to get started, try pulling away in second gear. This should make it easier to get you going, as pulling away in first gear on ice will give you poor grip. Most modern automatic cars will have the ability to pull away in a higher gear or may even have a separate system for winter driving and a low torque pull away.
Light the way
The winter doesn’t only see us hit with cold weather; we also see the days getting shorter which means you’ll be using lights much more. Before setting off on every journey, check all your lights are working correctly and clean. If you’ve changed your car recently, in the summer, you might not be aware of automatic settings, how to override them or about how to activate full beam. Be prepared before you set off.
With an increase in local councils introducing strategies to tackle climate change which involve dimming or reduced street lighting, your headlights become even more crucial.
Don’t get lost
This goes back to planning. Know your route, where you are going, where you plan to stop and anticipate delays so leave plenty of time for the journey. With unpredictable or fast changing weather, severe drops in temperate, being prepared should include avoiding getting lost. If you don’t know where you are going, it’s dark and you’re in the middle of a snowstorm then the danger gauge has just gone through the roof. Having a Sat Nav, phone, map and torch and some warm clothes all apply to this point and don’t forget water and a snack. Planning really can help. Rather than getting stranded book into a hotel, leave earlier or don’t leave home at all. However, if you enjoy ‘exploring’ and don’t mind getting lost just pack for the occasion.
Your grip will be seriously reduced in the winter, so ensuring your tyres are in good condition is essential. Whilst law requires you to have your tread depth at a minimum of 1.6mm, grip starts to reduce on anything under 3mm, so make sure you keep an eye on your tyres and replace them if needed.
You can also get your hands on some winter tyres which will give you a better grip and traction during winter. If your budget allows then this could offer optimum traction and grip in cold conditions, and help disperse water/snow, and allow the rubber to move around to improve the contact with the road. If you are likely to encounter extreme snow conditions, consider carrying snow socks or chains.
Prepare a winter kit for your car
It's worth packing a few essential items in your car's boot to make sure you're ready in case of getting stuck in cold and wintry weather. If you were to breakdown then it’s best to be prepared as possible:
There’s nothing more frustrating than rushing to get out in the morning (or the evening) and your front and back windscreens are iced over. Instead of having to use a credit card, having an ice scraper and de-icer in the car will save you lots of time.
If you are tempted to clear the windscreen with water, not too hot otherwise you’ll be dealing with a cracked windscreen rather than a frosted or icy one if it finds its way into an imperfection.
Remember that if you don’t clear your car windscreen fully and then includes inside misting, you won’t be able to see properly. So, leave extra time too, to ensure you have full visibility!
Or if you are lucky enough to have the facility pre-condition your car for your departure time, the screen will be clear and the interior ready for you just to jump in and drive off.
With less daylight hours in winter, it can get dark quite quickly in the evenings so a hi vis jacket or vest and a torch will mean you won't be missed by other drivers. Another useful item to keep you warm and comfortable if you get stuck in cold weather is blanket and warm clothes, you never know when you’ll need them.
It's always a good idea to keep a first aid kit in your car. Items such as sterile wipes, plasters, dressings, and scissors to treat minor wounds might come in handy.
Car batteries are one of the most common reasons drivers may find themselves stranded in the winter months. Jump leads are useful to have in the boot of your car in case you need them to kickstart your battery.
It can be put on the side of the road by anyone to warn other drivers of a breakdown or crash ahead, but remember not on the motorway
If your car has a USB charger then keep a mobile charger lead in the car so you can charge your phone as you go. If your car doesn’t have a USB then there are lots of gadgets on the market that will do the same usually using the cigarette lighter as the charging point. Don’t forget to take your phone in the first place and it’s also a good idea to take a plug too as if you have to stay overnight you can charge the phone in a hotel or restaurant before restarting or completing your journey.
Non-perishable foods, such as crisps, biscuits and dried fruits are a good choice and easy to store in your vehicle. Some bottled water will also stand you in good stead if you find yourself stranded or in unexpected standstill traffic.
Remember if you don’t have to go out don’t risk it.
With the adoption of online shopping, deliveries, and remote working there is now little need or excuse to leave the house in extreme weather. Do you really want to risk your safety in snow? If in doubt or you don’t need to then don’t take your vehicle out!
Richard said: “Winter brings difficult driving conditions with frost, ice and snow all adversely affecting road conditions and vehicle handling. Preparation is key to avoiding a dangerous situation whilst driving in snowy or icy conditions. Don't rely on the performance of your car systems to get you out of trouble - allow time, create a safe space, make sure you have good visibility all around and carry the right equipment. If conditions are extreme remember the best advice is not to travel.”