Poor vision from rain, sleet, snow or fog is blamed for more than 2,500 accidents a year because in adverse conditions it is harder to see and takes longer to stop. Traffic may also be slow-moving, meaning journeys take longer than expected so drivers are more prone to tiredness.
There are some basic principles that can be applied to winter driving, so let’s look at them one at a time. First of all, prepare your car before setting off. Make sure windows are deiced on the outside and de-steamed inside.
Slow 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.
Maintain a safe gap behind the vehicle in front. In snow, maintain at least a ten-second gap between you and the vehicle in front. In rain the gap must be at least four seconds. Your stopping distances are doubled in the wet and ten times greater in snow and ice. That’s a huge difference, so drive accordingly.
Look out for vulnerable road users. People on foot, riding bicycles, motorbikes and horses are harder to spot in adverse weather.
Pay particular attention to signs warning of adverse conditions. Listen to weather warnings and look to the sky for dark cloud ahead. Do oncoming cars have snow on them?
Stay in control. Avoid harsh braking and acceleration and carry out manoeuvres slowly and with extra care.
Use your lights. Dipped headlights are best whenever light levels are compromised by bad weather. It might be the middle of the day but in winter weather it gets very murky.
When you are driving in snow use the highest gear possible to avoid wheel spin but take care not to let your speed creep up. When driving downhill, choose third or fourth gear to prevent skidding. Drivers using a manual car should start off in second gear rather than first to minimise risk of wheels spinning. Brake gently. Gentle manoeuvres are the key to safe driving in snow.
Heavy rain can lead to flooding. Never attempt to cross a flooded road if you are unsure how deep it is. Many vehicles have been irreparably damaged by just a few inches of water. Floods often lift manhole covers and the holes or covers themselves remain concealed by the water level.
If you need to cross shallow water, only cross when there is nothing coming the other way and drive very slowly in first gear with the engine speed high to prevent stalling. Test your brakes immediately after driving through floodwater by driving slowly over a flat surface and pressing the brakes gently.
Top ten pre-trip tips
- Consider whether your journey is necessary.
- Check forecasts and traffic news.
- Check your emergency kit.
- Check lights and wipers.
- Clean windscreen, windows and mirrors.
- Check your tyre pressure and tread depth. Traction is crucial on snowy icy roads
- Include a blanket, warm clothes, a shovel and wear comfortable dry shoes.
- Plan your journey – where possible, opt for main roads which are more likely to be gritted.
- Inform someone of your intended route and make sure your phone is fully charged.
- Ensure you’re fit to drive.
This advice is from the Cardinus Fleet magazine which is filled with articles written by a host of respected fleet experts and is available to request here
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