With colder temperatures, longer nights and more kinds of precipitation than you can shake a snow shovel at, winter seems like it might have been specifically designed to make driving more difficult. But while the winter months do present unique challenges compared to their warmer counterparts, there’s no reason you can’t stay safe while on the road.
All that’s required is a little forethought before setting out on your journey and a bit of wisdom while undertaking it and you’ll soon be at your destination, safe and sound. Here are a handful of winter driving tips to ensure that both you and other road users remain safe when getting behind the wheel this winter.
Before you go
Adequate planning is important when it comes to undertaking any trip, but it’s doubly so when driving in winter. Take the time to consider the following points before you go, and you’ll be best prepared for all eventualities.
1. Is the journey essential?
Wet, icy and snowy conditions outside can create a perfect storm for motorists, so the most logical of winter driving tips is to avoid it altogether. Reassess whether you need to make the journey today and if possible, put it off until the climate improves.
2. Prepare the car
Performing general car and tyre maintenance is advisable before any lengthy trip, but it’s imperative before all journeys in inclement conditions. Check that your brakes, lights, windscreen wipers and car battery are all up to scratch, as well as topping up all of the relevant car fluids under the hood.
3. Check your tyres
The tyres fitted to the vast majority of cars around the UK are not designed for use in temperatures below 7°C, so consider changing to winter or all-season tyres for the colder months. Having a tread depth of at least 3mm when driving in winter is UK law – almost twice the 1.6mm required at all other times of the year – so make sure you meet those obligations. Carrying snow socks or chains is not a legal requirement but might be a good idea if conditions are particularly bad.
4. De-ice and de-mist
One common mistake when preparing for a winter journey is not giving yourself more time before setting off. Any ice that has accumulated on the windscreen and windows must be cleared before leaving, using lukewarm (never boiling) water, a scraper and a de-icer if you have one. Remember to de-mist the inside of the car, too, since condensation quickly builds up in colder temperatures.
5. Stock up on emergency supplies
You never know what might happen on the road, so it’s best to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. Your emergency kit should include warm clothing, food, drink, a torch, blankets, wellington boots, a de-icer, a scraper, a snow shovel, jump leads, a first aid kit and a phone charger to keep you connected.
While on the road
Of course, taking the right precautions before getting behind the wheel is important, but it’s just half the battle. Adjusting your technique on the road to practice defensive driving is paramount when it comes to ensuring the safety of yourself and others. Here are some particular points of concern:
6. Go slow
The golden rule of driving in wet, icy or snowy conditions is to reduce your speed. This allows you more time to react to unexpected occurrences (such as a pesky patch of black ice) and increases the likelihood that you’ll be capable of responding in a timely, responsible and, above all, safe manner.
7. Keep your distance
In standard driving conditions, it’s recommended to keep a distance of at least two seconds from the car in front of you. However, studies have shown that driving on ice can increase braking time by as much as ten times! With that in mind, increase your distance to at least six seconds and ideally even more to give yourself plenty of time.
8. Easy does it
As with the point above about maintaining a slow and steady speed, the same applies to acceleration and deceleration. Avoid pumping the accelerator or slamming on the brakes, since smoother application of both will aid in retaining traction and preventing unnecessary skidding.
9. Stay calm in skids
Speaking of skids, even the most careful driver may find themselves having to deal with an unexpected patch of ice at some point and heading into a skid. If that happens, the most important thing is to stay calm and steer gently into it. For example, if the rear end of the car is skidding to the right, steer gently to the right. Do not pump the brakes or take your hands off the steering wheel.
10. Listen to the road
Your car will make different noises based upon the surface of the road and the conditions that the weather exerts upon it. Generally speaking, driving through snow will create a lot of noise, since you’ll be kicking up the white stuff as you go. If the noise stops abruptly, it may signal you have moved onto a patch of ice instead.
11. Take hills carefully
It might be tempting to stamp on the accelerator when approaching a hill, but this will likely only make your wheels spin. Instead, try to build up some momentum before beginning the ascent, then climb gently, using the accelerator when necessary. Once you reach the hill’s crest, avoid switching into a higher gear and don’t brake at all as you descend, if at all possible.
12. In case of breakdown…
If the worst does come to pass and you find yourself stranded, the most important thing is not to panic. As well as following breakdown advice for any other situation, you should also prioritise staying warm (by wearing extra layers and staying inside the car, if safe to do so) and drawing attention to yourself (by tying a brightly coloured cloth or piece of clothing to the antennae of the car, using your hazards or leaving the central dome light on).
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