Safe driving ought to be a consideration at all times, but it should be a priority at this time of year. It hasn’t been as cold or snowy as previous winters, but there has been record levels of rainfall. This guide will help you stay safer on the wet or icy roads this winter.
Driving in wet conditions
In wet conditions, some cars have engine problems, either from the damp in the air or from driving through deep puddles. As such, breakdown call-outs increase significantly during periods of heavy rain. Slow down if you’re driving in very wet conditions and avoid the deepest puddles at the side of the road. It is also a good idea to try to avoid driving in really wet weather altogether. Ask yourself if the is trip essential: can it wait?
If you do choose to drive, reduce your speed and drive with dipped headlights to ensure that other drivers on the road can see you. Don’t use your rear fog lights, however, as they can mask your brake lights and confuse people driving behind you. Watch out for large or fast-moving vehicles as the spray they create can drastically reduce visibility.
Beware of aquaplaning (sometimes called hydroplaning). This occurs when a car hits a puddle at such speed that the wheels are lifted off the road and onto the surface of the water. Aquaplaning occurs only when hitting puddles at high speeds, so reducing your speed will reduce the risk. You’ll know if your car is aquaplaning if your steering suddenly feels light — a little like when you drive over ice. Do not break in this instance, or jerk your steering wheel. Instead, take your foot off the accelerator and allow your car to slow down. When it is slow enough, it will make contact with the road.
For more advice about driving during heavy rain, check out this RAC resource.
Driving in snowy and icy conditions
Britons are often ill-prepared for snow—probably because we don’t get as much of it as much of Northern Europe or North America.
The first and most straightforward piece of advice is to abstain from driving. Avoid making any trips in snow or ice unless absolutely necessary. It might help to ask yourself what would happen if you didn’t go.
Consider the idea that you need a new car to deal with your local area’s weather. Not all parts of the UK are the same and rural areas tend to suffer the most from snow, ice and rain. Avoid the dealerships and local salesmen by selling your car to one of the online car buying companies. It’s quicker and you’ll probably receive a higher price than at a local used car dealer. Then it’s just a matter of finding the right car for you and your area’s weather — which should be a whole article in its own right.
It’s a great idea to pack yourself a little survival kit in case you end up stranded somewhere. Include a torch, blankets, a fully charged backup phone, food, water, an ice scraper and something to help get you out of a slippery situation, such as sand, grit or even cat litter. You may also want to pack a spare set of warm clothing and some jump leads. If you’re unsure how to use jump leads, then read this guide from The AA and perhaps print it out and stash it in your glove compartment. Hopefully you won’t need to use this kit, but it’s better to have it and not use it than the alternative.
Ensure that your car’s fuel tank is relatively full, in case you get caught in a traffic jam. Planning your route and sticking to the major roads will give you the best chance of getting to your destination, as they’re much more likely to have been gritted. If you do find yourself stuck in a traffic jam with a lot of snow, get out to check that your exhaust pipe hasn’t filled with snow as this can cause carbon monoxide to backup into the car.
Do the rest of the big checks on your car before setting off: fluid levels, tyre treads, etc. And it’s a good idea to figure out if your car’s heating system has any special features you’ve perhaps never needed to use, such as heated screens. Check that your wipers haven’t frozen to the windscreen as this could result in the blades being pulled off when you turn them on.
Driving in snow
Use your headlights if it’s snowing. Although many cars have automatic headlights, make sure that your headlights are working by manually switching them on instead of relying on the automatic setting. Headlights will improve your own visibility and it will make it easier for other cars to see you. For the same reason as when it’s raining, avoid using your fog lights.
Drive smoothly, keeping your grip on the road, being careful never to press on the accelerator to hard or change gear too suddenly. Change up your gears early, keeping your revs down, as this causes less torque and reduces the chance of your wheels spinning.
Leave a lot of room between yourself and the driver in front as it can take as much as ten times longer to stop in icy conditions. With this in mind, try to leave about a 20-second gap, as this will give you enough time to slow down should the car in front suddenly stop. If someone is too close behind you, try not to get angry or panic: simply pull over as soon as safely possible to allow them to move past you.
If your car skids, take your foot off the accelerator and let the car slow down on its own. Using your brakes will make the skidding even worse. If your car starts to turn as you’re skidding, make sure you turn your steering wheel in the same direction as the way you’re turning in order to right your direction.
Adhering to the advice in this article should keep you as safe as possible on the roads this winter, but remember that not everyone is as sensible as you, so watch out for reckless drivers, giving them a very wide berth. Stay happy and drive safely.