Winter brings with it difficult driving conditions, and with snow impacting many of us in the UK this week, now is a good time to remind everyone how to drive safely when the temperature drops below zero. When we expect freezing conditions, we tend to get weather warnings from the Met Office, however you should always take extra care when travelling in winter.
IAM RoadSmart’s Head of Driving and Riding Standards, Richard Gladman, is offering advice to motorists to better cope with driving on road surfaces that are covered in frost, ice or snow.
Only travel if you need to
If the weather conditions are severe in your area, you should take notice of police advice and simply do not travel. However, in exceptional circumstances if you must go out then make sure you drive safely with extra caution on icy roads.
Triple your stopping distance
Approach every junction planning to stop well before the stop or give way line (it can take up to ten times as long to stop according to Highway Code advice). Every steering, acceleration or braking input should be as smooth and gentle as possible, and by selecting 2nd gear when you pull away in icy conditions should mean you have less torque that will help prevent wheels spinning. Remember ABS can be ineffective in icy conditions, changing down the gearbox sequentially can be an effective way to slow, but be careful about selecting a lower gear too soon as this may cause the wheels to lock.
Keep your car clean
Salt will often make the windscreen, headlights, number plate and rear parts of your car very dirty. Cars without headlamp washers, for example, will lose an estimated 40% of luminosity and possibly all their focus in about 20 miles on a damp, gritted motorway. When travelling long distances it is advised that you stop regularly at service stations to clean your windscreen and headlights and rear lights with a clean cloth to allow you to see and be seen.
It’s always worth keeping a filled bottle of water in the car boot to give your lights, windows and mirrors a quick wash over, remember in extreme conditions this may freeze so a good mix of screen wash may be the best investment – and while you are at it top up your windscreen washer reservoir too, don’t let it get to the point where you are likely to run out. Also don’t forget to wash/rinse alloy wheels too; the smallest scratch can quickly become a large, corroded area.
Never ignore warning lights
If one appears then get it checked out sooner rather than later. Being stuck on the side of the road is never good but breaking down in freezing conditions is a high-risk situation when recovery services are in high demand. Keep your car well maintained and a winter health check is always a good investment.
Carry a winter driving kit
This should include an ice scraper, de-icer, blanket and warm jacket, torch, shovel, something to eat and drink and a fully charged mobile phone – you should also consider packing your phone charger.
Avoid unnecessary overtaking
When driving on a busy road avoid overtaking a gritting lorry as the road ahead may not be treated yet. If you have any doubt, don’t risk it. And make sure to never overtake a snow plough in heavy snow conditions. If you see the gritting lorry stay well back from it and avoid getting sprayed with salt, remember the salt will take a while to work if the road is already icy as it relies on the salt getting into the ice, at really extreme temperatures this may not help.
Drive at a steady pace
While roads may be gritted to give you better traction, some areas may not be completely treated which can leave ice patches exposed. You should therefore drive at a steady pace, ensuring the safety of you and your passengers. It’s also worth remembering to watch out for water running across the carriageway as this can wash away salt or freeze over in those extreme minus temperatures.
Watch out in the winter sun
Just because the winter sun is out does not mean the roads might not be icy. Microclimates of icy patches will linger in areas such as bridges and exposed sections, where the sun has not yet reached. Be wary of vision being affected by the low sun, not just yours but other road users.
Watch out for your tyre tread
Keep the tread on your tyres above 2mm (ideally 3mm), the more tread you have the more water they can cope with. Letting your tyres get down to the legal limit of 1.6mm is not recommended, and don’t forget you can always consider winter tyres if you are in an area where they will benefit you. The following link will give good safety tips https://www.tyresafe.org/tyre-safety/
Richard Gladman said: “Preparation is the key to avoiding a dangerous situation whilst driving in snowy or icy conditions. Don’t rely on the performance of your cars’ systems to get you out of trouble – allow time, make sure you have good visibility all round and carry the right equipment. If conditions are extreme remember the best advice is not to travel.”