Wise up on the dangers of winter driving. UK weather can be unpredictable. Severe weather conditions can arise when least expected and can be extremely dangerous if you’re on the road.
Driving is a risky business at the best of times, 9 people die on UK roads every day, so hazards such as darkness, rain, fog, ice and dazzling sunshine only add to the danger.
The following advice will help you stay safe in winter.
BEFORE YOU SET OFF: Consider whether your journey is necessary. The best way to stay safe in bad weather is to stay off the roads and use alternative means of travel.
Check forecasts and traffic news, both local and national. You can check the met office website for warnings of hazardous conditions.
Consider your route, bear in mind that some types of road are particularly dangerous in certain conditions. For example, steep country roads are treacherous in icy weather and some roads are more susceptible to flooding and strong side winds than others.
Check tyres, tread depth should be at least 3mm to be safe in wet or icy conditions and tyres should be inflated to the pressure recommended by the manufacturer.
Check lights and wipers, ensure they are fully functioning.
Clean windscreen, windows and mirrors, ensure they are totally clear of snow and ice.
Use additives, add anti-freeze to the radiator and winter additive to the windscreen washer fluid.
Plan your journey, try to stick to major routes, give yourself plenty of time and allow for possible hold-ups. To download a free Safe Journey Planner from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, click here.
Inform someone of your intended route and time of arrival.
Ensure you’re fit to drive. It’s crucial to ensure that your driving is not impaired by drink, drugs, medicine, stress, tiredness or a distraction like a mobile phone at any time of year, but you especially need to be focused and fit to drive in adverse conditions.
Check your emergency kit. Ensure your vehicle is properly stocked. It should contain the following essential items: - ice-scraper and de-icer - cloths - high-visibility vest - warning triangle - mobile phone ( for use only when parked ) - torch - blanket, warm clothes and boots - food and drink - first-aid kit - map - spade if driving in snow
In addition to the above, make sure your vehicle is properly serviced and well maintained. This is important all year round, but especially so in winter. Remember that prevention is better than cure.
Driver survey - Are drivers prepared for winter?
A survey by Budget Insurance in 2004 asked 500 drivers what they carry in their vehicles in winter. - 5% carry a torch - 5% carry food and drink - 24% of women carry a blanket compared to 15% of men - 31% of women carry de-icer compared to 17% of men - Overall, the least prepared groups were the youngest (17-24) and oldest (65+) drivers - Overall, drivers who owned their vehicles were better equipped than those who drove company vehicles
BASIC PRINCIPLES FOR DRIVING IN BAD WEATHER
The best way to be safe in extremely bad weather is to avoid driving at all. However, bad weather can be unpredictable and it’s common to get caught out while on the road. These basic safe driving principles apply in all adverse conditions:
- Slow right down. If visibility is poor or the road is wet or icy, it will take you longer to react to hazards and your speed should be reduced accordingly. If you have a temperature gauge in your vehicle that is showing zero or below degrees, then presume that a road will be icy.
- Maintain a safe gap behind the vehicle in front. Stopping distances are double in the wet and ten times greater in icy weather. The gap between you and the vehicle in front is your braking space in a crisis.
- Look out for vulnerable road users. Be aware that people on foot, bicycles, motorbikes and horses are harder to spot in adverse weather and in the dark. Drive as though someone could step out in front of you at any time.
- Look out for signs warning of adverse conditions. Including fixed signs, such as those warning of exposure to high-winds, and variable message signs on motorways that warn of fog, snow and which may display temporary slower speed limits.
- Stay in control. Avoid harsh braking and acceleration and carry out manoeuvres slowly and with extra care.
- Use lights. Put lights on in gloomy weather, when visibility is reduced. Use front and rear fog lights in dense fog.
DRIVING IN SPECIFIC CONDITIONS
The above advice applies in most bad weather conditions, but it’s wise to have an understanding of how best to handle specific conditions.
Snow, ice and slush - Don’t go out at all. - If you are caught in these conditions, slow right down. Make sure the windscreen and back and side windows are thoroughly de-iced on the outside and de-steamed on the inside before setting off ? don’t simply clear a ‘porthole’ to look through. If snow or hail is falling, use wipers to keep the windscreen clear. Maintain at least a 10-second gap between you and the vehicle in front. It takes 10 times further to stop in icy conditions than on a dry road. Use the highest gear possible to avoid wheel spin, but taking care not to let your speed creep up. Brake gently to avoid locking the wheels. Get into a low gear earlier than normal and allow the speed of the vehicle to fall gradually. Take corners very slowly and steer gently and steadily, rather than with jerky movements, to avoid skidding. Never brake if the vehicle skids, instead, ease off the accelerator and steer slightly into the direction of the skid until you gain control.
Rain and flooding - Keep well back from the vehicle in front as the rain and spray from other vehicles makes it difficult to see and be seen. Look out for steering becoming unresponsive, which can happen if water prevents the tyres from gripping. If this occurs, ease off the accelerator and gradually slow down. If possible, pull over somewhere safe until the rain stops and the water drains away. Never attempt to cross a flooded road if you are unsure how deep it is, only cross if you can see the road through the water. Apart from potential damage, many vehicles require only two feet of water before they float. If driving through a flooded road, stay in first gear with the engine speed high and drive very slowly. Do not drive through floodwater if a vehicle is driving in the opposite direction. If possible drive in the middle of the road to avoid deeper water near the kerb. Test brakes immediately after driving through floodwater by driving slowly over a flat surface and pressing the brakes gently. Warn passengers first.
Fog - Use dipped headlights, or if visibility is seriously reduced (if you cannot see more than 100 metres/ 328 feet), use fog lights. Remember to switch off fog lights when visibility improves. Never hang on someone else’s taillights. This can provide a false sense of security and mean you’re not fully focussed on the road. Never speed up suddenly if fog seems to have cleared, fog can be patchy and you may suddenly re-enter it.
Strong winds - Take extra care when passing over bridges or along open stretches of road exposed to strong winds. If your vehicle is being blown about, slow right down and maintain a steady course. Keep well back from motorbikes or cars overtaking a high-sided vehicle as they can be affected by turbulence.
Winter sun - Dazzle from winter sun can be dangerous. Keep a pair of sunglasses (prescription if needed) in the vehicle all year round and make sure you keep your windscreen clean. Wear your sunglasses in bright sunshine, especially if the sun is low or reflecting off a wet road.
Darker evenings and mornings - Switch on lights as soon as it starts to get dark. In urban areas use dipped beam. Use full beam on other roads at night but dip them when there is someone in front or coming towards you. Be aware that pedestrians are harder to spot in the dark and may not be visible until they are very close. In particular, take care when driving near schools and homes, where children may be walking and cycling, and around pubs and clubs at closing time, where drunk pedestrians may be about. These types of road user are very vulnerable as they are both hard to spot in the dark and may act unpredictably. Slow right down to 20mph where they may be children or drunk pedestrians, if you hit someone at this speed they have more than a nine in ten chance of survival, compared with about a 50/50 chance at 30mph.Driving in bad weather in darkness is particularly risky.
BREAKDOWN AND EMERGENCY PROCEDURES
Each year, hundreds of people lose their life or suffer serious injuries while working or stopped at the roadside or on the motorway hard shoulder. On the hard shoulder alone, around 250 people are killed or injured each year.
What to do if stranded in severe weather: - Do not use a mobile phone while driving. Stop somewhere safe or ask a passenger to make a call. If stuck in snow, do not spin the wheels/ rev the vehicle, as this will dig the vehicle further into the snow. Instead, put the vehicle into as high a gear as possible and slowly manoeuvre the vehicle lightly forwards and backwards to gently creep out of the snow. If you are stuck fast, stay in the car unless help is visible within 100 yards. Do not abandon your vehicle as this can hold up rescue vehicles and snowploughs. To ensure that the road is cleared as quickly as possible, stay with your vehicle until help arrives. Keep warm by running the engine and heater every ten minutes. Beware of carbon monoxide poisoning. Keep the exhaust pipe clear of snow and open a downwind window for ventilation. If stranded for a long period, keep moving to maintain circulation, but avoid over-exertion as cold weather puts added strain on the heart. Shovelling snow or pushing a car in deep snow should be avoided.