How to drive safely during the winter months
Britain’s unpredictable weather can be most hazardous in winter, with more breakdowns reported than at any other time of the year. There are so many things to consider, from aquaplaning to steamed-up windows, but with the right kit and some preparation, you should make it from A to B with no problems.
Preparing for the winter months
When driving in adverse weather, it’s always worth being ready for any unexpected events, such as a roadside breakdown. Keeping these items in your car will help keep you warm and safe if you do break down in cold conditions:
- Warm clothes, a high-vis jacket, and a blanket
- First aid kit
- Warning triangle
- Ice scraper and a de-icer
- A torch with spare batteries
- Food and water
If travelling abroad, check the laws of the road before heading out as some items have to be in the car at all times.
Driving in different weather conditions
Even the most experienced drivers can find themselves in sticky situations when the weather turns bad. There will also be conditions where it’s advisable not to drive at all, so keep an eye on the forecast. For the most part, however, it’s about being aware of your surroundings and keeping control of the car. Take a look at our guide to driving in various weather conditions for some more detailed advice.
Driving in snow and ice
We’re lucky enough in most parts of the UK to avoid extreme snowfall and ice, which means you’re unlikely to need snow chains or other additions to your car. It is important, though, to give the car a good check to make sure the tread is right in your tyres, your screenwash is topped up (which stops the water in your reservoir from freezing), and you have plenty of provisions if you do get stuck.
When you’re actually driving, there are a few techniques you can use to prevent skidding, and avoid any accidents if you do.
This technique is when you apply pressure to the brake, release, and reapply over and over. This is gentler than simply slamming the brakes and prevents the wheels from locking. This reduces stopping times, which can be much longer in snow and ice.
To engine brake in snow and ice, you remove your foot from the accelerator without hitting the brakes. Then run down the gears as the car slows down naturally. Not hitting the brakes here will stop you losing traction on the slippery roads, but should only be exercised when you have plenty of distance between you and any corners or obstacles.
If you're already skidding
If you feel the car moving in a different direction to where you’re steering, make sure you don’t panic-brake while the car has no grip on the road, as this could make things worse. Try and safely steer the same way you intended, and only brake once you feel the wheels return to the surface of the road.
Driving during heavy rain
Vision is one of the main issues when it comes to torrential rain. While you’re in the car, do your best to keep the windows from steaming up and use your headlights on their lowest setting to alert other drivers in daylight. It’s also best to turn off cruise control if you have it, as this could cause big problems if you aquaplane. Generally, keeping your speed low will help keep your tyres on the road. However, if you do aquaplane here’s what to do:
- Stay as calm as possible: Don’t slam the brakes or spin the steering wheel.
- Take your foot off the accelerator.
- Aquaplaning normally only lasts a few seconds, so avoid sudden moves and you should regain control of the car.
Driving in high winds
According to the Met Office, the strongest winds recorded in the UK were over 170 miles per hour up in the Cairngorms1 in Scotland, but even in the windiest places, the average wind speed is less than 17 mph. High winds can be a scary experience nonetheless, but keeping control of the car is essential. Some things to remember include:
- Try not to overtake in strong winds. A sideways gust could be extremely dangerous and send you into the car beside you.
- Give extra space to motorbikes and cyclists, as they’re more at risk from the weather.
- Be alert, as debris on the roads is going to be more likely.
- Park your car somewhere that it is not at risk from falling trees or power lines.
When driving in bad weather, the main thing to remember is patience and composure. Driving well in the first place should shield you from many of the problems that come with wind, rain, and snow, but it certainly helps to know what to do if the worst were to happen. And, if the weather outside is that bad – don’t risk it.
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