Safe Driving During The Winter Months

Winter weather can make driving a difficult and dangerous activity. In winter the official advice is do not drive. In theory this advice is fine but in reality it is far from easy to follow. The following guide outlines the steps and precautions a motorist can take in order to stay safe whilst driving through the winter months.

Before the winter comes take time to maintain your car. If it is in need of a service then take it in. If not then indulge it in some basic car maintenance. Firstly make sure your car tyres are road worthy and in good repair. Good levels of tread are essential during the winter months. Although the legal minimum tread depth is 1.6mm during the winter it is wise to ensure the tread is double that as your tyres will be fighting for grip in rain, snow and ice. You should also check the tyres for general wear, cracking, bulging, pressure or objects caught in the tread.

The winter months means less light and shorter days so it is vital to check all exterior lights – headlights, indicators, brake lights, reversing light and fog light. Make sure all are in good working order. Check all the bulbs are working and that all covers are clean and free of grime.

Cold mornings can kill any less than perfect car battery so make sure yours is running on a full charge. Most car batteries have a life span of up to five years. If yours is coming to the end of its life then now is a good time to replace it.

Make sure your windscreen and rear window wipers are fit for purpose. They will have to work harder in the winter to keep your windows clear. To aid them add a quality non freezing washer fluid to the washer reservoir.

Other wise precautions include:

Store in your car a ice scraper and a can of de-icer. It is also good to have a can of flat tyre repair foam, the instant way to repair a flat tyre. If the weather turns really bad and snow is forecast then it is sensible to carry a shovel, a blanket even extra clothes, a flask containing a hot drink and food.

Keep you fuel tank as full as you can. Traffic queues during the winter are a regular occurrence. Running out of fuel in such a situation could be dangerous.

Make sure your mobile phone battery is fully topped up. If you need to call for assistance a phone is essential.

If the weather turns bad whilst you are driving then switch on the radio and find the local station. This will provide you up to date travel news. Likewise check your sat-nav for travel news.

Take great care while driving in snow and ice. To minimize the dangers of driving in snow and ice follow these tips.

Avoid harsh, aggressive steering as this can easily result in skidding. When turning the steering wheel do so gently and progressively. The same applies to acceleration. In snow and ice hard acceleration will cause the car tyres to lose grip with the road.

Slow down and avoid sudden braking. If it is possible to do so you should try and use the engine brake by dropping to a low gear. This will help prevent the wheels locking up if your car doesn’t have ABS.

On an icy road stopping distances increase ten fold to account for this increase the gap between you and any vehicle ahead of you.

Fog cause more road traffic accidents than any other weather condition. Given this special care is always needed when driving through it. If fog is really thick then it is best to pull over somewhere safe and wait for the fog to lift. When driving through fog follow these tips:

Reduce your speed, turn your headlights to dip and turn on your fog lights (if visibility is less than 100 metres).
Remember that fog is patchy. You may drive into a clear patch only to enter a far denser patch moments later.
Turn on your wipers and demisters.

Driving in the rain brings its own challenges. Firstly rain will hinder the vision of all drivers on the road, even with the window wipers turned on to fast. Windows are also more likely to mist over whilst it is raining. To limit the effects of window mist it helps to keep your car windows clean and free of grease.

Spray is water sent up from the road as tyres run over it. All vehicles can cause spray with heavy vehicles producing the most. Spray is especially dangerous once the rain has actually stopped. In this situation you are likely to to have turned off your wipers. You then pass a vehicle which sprays water on to your windscreen blocking your view and forcing you to quickly turn your wipers on. To help avoid spray keep well back from vehicles in front. If you see a large vehicle approaching, turn your wipers on to full speed just in case it sprays you.

With water soaked roads comes the danger of aquaplaning.

This is when tyres surf on the water and lose all grip with the road. You will know you are aquaplaning when your steering suddenly starts to feel too light. This is due to the fact the tyres have lost grip with the road.

Never hit the brakes or attempt to steer the car if you find yourself aquaplaning. If you do you are likely to lose control of the car. The only way to deal with an aquaplane is to take your foot off the accelerator. This will slow your car gently allowing the tyres to reconnect with the road giving grip and steering.

The speed of a car is a key factor in aquaplaning. The greater the speed the higher the chance of aquaplaning. So whenever water lies on the surface of a road it is wise to lower your speed.

Puddles at the side of the road can also be dangerous. When driving through them the drag of the water on your wheels can pull the steering. If you fail to adjust your steering quickly enough this can cause you to swerve.

During the winter months flooding takes place quite often. Whether or not you drive through it depends on how deep the water is. If you are unsure how deep the water is then get out of your car and check because is water gets into a cars engine the damage could be costly. If you do drive through then use first gear and keep the revs high by dipping the clutch as this will help prevent water coming into the exhaust. Don’t use too much speed as this will create a wave that might rise up into the exhaust and engine. Once clear of the water apply the brakes a few times as this will help dry them.

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