With winter finally upon us and shop windows everywhere filled with stick-on snowflakes and winter-themed drinks, are we ready for the real winter outside? According to the weather forecasters, we are set for a particularly cold one! This I find means different things to different people, my 5-year-old sits in the window watching for the first snowflake, my Nan buys in supplies and hibernates and driving instructors … well, try to survive the cancelled tests and lessons.
So are we.. the royal we.. prepared for icy roads, snow blizzards and the general chaos of winter traffic? The forecast for this winter is for the exact opposite of last winter, colder, less rainfall and less storms. It is predicted that there will be a higher incidence of wintry weather including snow, frost and low temperatures. I have already had to defrost my car once.. which would have been a lot easier if i’d prepared by buying some de-icer! So on the news of further bad weather to come our way and my lack of preparation I thought.. How many of us do actually make any preparations for winter driving? Our driving instructors are out in all weather and to them filling the boot with emergency essentials is common place, I’ve seen shovels, blankets, cereal bars and hot flasks. Also many new drivers passing their tests in the summer may never have encountered icy roads before and does everyone remember the theory of driving in wintry conditions? And thats different wintry conditions as one journey in this country could entail rain one minute and hail the next, so we need to know how to adjust to all extremes.
This blog was actually good for me to research too, not being an instructor like my fellow colleagues it was great to test myself on how much I remembered from taking my theory test. I found that not only did I not remember some of the theory a lot of it was new advice, practical tips that I feel make all the difference to being a more confident winter driver. It maybe that the process of revising for our theory tests focused our minds only on the questions and answers rather than all round safe driving knowledge. So even if you feel that you know all your winter driving theory and are a seasoned pro, its worth a read!!
So here is our 123-drive guide to winter driving to keep you and your car safe over the winter period!
1) take the bus
…. only joking !!
2) Don’t eat yellow snow!!…… only joking, but seriously don’t!
The best way to be prepared is to first ensure your car is fully checked and it a good idea to have your car fully serviced before the winter period. The RAC gets more call outs for battery related breakdowns down any other and at this time of year thats one thing we could do without. so try to have your battery checked and avoid being stranded. below are a list of checks that you should be able to do your self ( for me with the help of a handbook!!)
1) Check that all lights are clean and working properly
2) Windowscreen, wiper blades and all other windows are clean and that the washer bottle is filled with screen wash.
3) Check the condition of all tyres, tread depth and pressure.
4) Brakes are all working properly.
5) check anti freeze levels ( needs to be accurate concentration ) and also oil.
Rospa the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents also recommends that you have an emergency kit containing the following; tow rope, shovel, wellington boots, a hazard warning triangle, first aid kit, working torch, car blanket, warm clothes, emergency rations, de-icing kit and ensure that your phone is fully charged. Now all this may seem a bit extreme if all you do is go to the local shop once week. However if considering a long journey or a journey on remote rural roads and being mindful of the latest weather report if you think theres a slightest chance its better to be safe than sorry.
Rospa also suggests that you prepare yourself for the journey ensuring that if you are travelling to meet someone that they are aware of your Expected Time of Arrival therefore will be alert if you do not arrive. Have an alternative route just in case your previous route is no longer preferred. Ensure that your fuel tank is full and if you do become stranded be careful not to waste all your fuel on keeping the engine running to keep warm. And although tempting to leave as soon as possible, try to wait until your heater is blowing warm air first to avoid window screens misting up.
At this time of year many of us will be suffering from colds etc, consider if you are fit to drive and check any medication to ensure it will not cause you drowsiness. But importantly prepare yourself knowledge wise consider how you will have to adjust to each different type of weather.
Snow/ Ice and hail driving
As with most hazardous conditions adjust to a suitable speed always baring in mind stopping distances, and as the chances of skidding in ice and snow are far greater your stopping distance will be increased massively. Only travel at the speed at which you can stop within the distance you can see to be clear.
1) Avoid harsh braking and accelerate gently, also avoid sharp steering. If you see a sharp bend ahead reduce speed as soon as you can and try to keep steering and actions smooth.
2) Always reduce speed gently and in plenty of time on slippery surfaces. ( bear in mind that some ice may not be visible).
3) Don’t brake on corners and bends as the centrifugal force will continue to pull the car outwards and the wheels on icy surfaces will not be able to grip the road having dangerous consequences such as spinning the car.
4) when braking drop into a lower gear and earlier than normal to allow the car to lower its speed and you may need up to 10 times the normal stopping distance.
5) Ensure your vehicle remains well ventilated, car heaters turned up will cause drowsiness. Be aware of how you feel and if your concentration is reduced.
6) If visibility is reduced used dipped headlights.
7) Remember that just because you cannot see the ice it does not mean it is not there. As roads defrost it can lead to patches of ice and these may be hard to see.
If you do get stuck in snow don’t panic, revving your engine to try and power out of the rut will cause you to make the rut worse. Instead use a higher gear to try and edge forward and backwards out of the rut…. if you are firmly stuck a kind passerby may be needed to give you a push!!
Hail unlike snow however can be dangerous to drive in and cause damage to your car and you. In a severe hail storm do not leave your vehicle, hail can fall at speed and cause you bodily harm. In severe hail try to pull over to avoid damage to your window screen, if you can try to stop under an overpass. If the hail is particularly bad park your car at an angle directed into the hail as the window screen is reinforced whereas the side windows and rear window are not.
Heavy rain and floods
Rain although common all year round ( as we all know) hits us even harder over the winter period and when combined with cold weather and steamed up windows becomes harder to contend with. With recent years seeing record levels of rainfall and flooding becoming more common, knowing how to drive safely in these conditions is becoming more and more important. But rain also poses greater risks to the our cars, with engines these days having more electrics damp weather can cause a great deal of problems. The RAC says that during the winter months and periods of heavy rain there is always a huge increase in engine and electrical based breakdowns mostly due to people driving through standing water, which will cause catastrophic engine failure. Whereby water can be sucked into the engine and cause it to ‘lock up’. If you are unsure of the depth of the water don’t attempt to drive through it and bear in mind that the deepest part of the eater will be near the curb.
Other advice that the RAC suggest is that if you are unfortunate enough to breakdown do not leave the bonnet open whilst awaiting help as the engine will get wet and cause electrical damage.
Another problem with wet weather is the chance of Aquaplaning. This is when water on the road comes between the road and the tyres causing a lack of contact so that the car is technically floating on the water giving no grip. Its usually caused by driving too fast through standing water. Similar to driving on ice and losing grip, do not break sharply as this will cause the car to skid, instead ease off gently until you can feel the car grip again and always re test your brakes to ensure they are effective again.
Fog and poor visibility
I am someone who knows how thick fog can get and how terrible visibility can become, living down a rural lane with ditches either side travelling along that road in impenetrable fog was a common scary jaunt. The highway code states that headlights must be used when visibility is less then 100m ( roughly the length of a football pitch) so make a point of learning how to put your fog lights on, it may sound obvious, but many of us don’t ever have to use them and may not remember how to operate them. Ensure that your headlights are dipped all the time and try not to tail gate the lights of the car in front as you may without realising it lose your stopping distance and not pay due attention. It may help when at junctions to wind your window down if visibility is so bad, you may be able to then hear approaching traffic. But most importantly if you cant see DONT drive! its simply not worth it, take a break and wait.
If visibility improves again don’t forget to turn the fog lights off!
Driving in high winds
After last years gales and storm damage we all know how dangerous wind can be, high winds can get under a car quickly and effect your steering. Also be aware that exposed areas may be prone to strong side winds, keep your speed reduced and both hands on the wheel and keep an eye out for these exposed areas. Be careful of exposed high bridges and debris on or at the side of the road.
Other vehicles to be cautious of are those towing caravans, motorcyclists who are greatly effected and do not be tempted to use a roof top box in high winds. Tall sided vehicles may get caught by the wind so beware when overtaking. They will also protect you from the wind as you overtake but then be aware that once you pass you will again be exposed to the high winds.
Lastly it may be prudent to park away from tall trees etc, there are often lots of reports on the media of cars crushed by falling trees!
Have you got all that??
It is all a lot to take in and for the most part common sense! But I did as i was writing learn a lot myself and with our weather hitting a particularly cold spike at the moment I have even put into practice my own advice. When in a crazy hail storm on Parbold hill at the weekend I felt re assured from the research into winter driving that if the storm became worse i would know how to deal with it and keep me and my car safe! Previously i have looked out of the window and felt a sense of trepidation about going out in the car. Although I have learnt previously for my test all those years ago the theory of driving in different weather conditions the re cap was much needed!
lastly enjoy the winter driving, if it wasn’t so cold its actually quite beautiful!!!
Please leave us a comment or your best winter advice below..
Post by Samantha Richards.