Later this month many of us will be travelling across the country to visit or stay with loved ones to celebrate Christmas. But with treacherous winter driving conditions, it’s even more essential you’re prepared and can drive safely.
Dark days. Thick fog. Heavy rain. Slippery roads. Icy surfaces. Unseen black ice. Snow falls. Increased winds. These are all elements you could face out on the road this time of year. Even experienced drivers can often struggle to adapt to winter driving conditions. But with these winter driving tips, you’ll be ready to take on whatever the winter months throw your way and stay safe out on the road.
While weather forecasts aren’t always the most reliable, they can at least give a good indication of potential upcoming weather conditions. It’s good to keep an eye out on the latest forecasts in your local area – and weather along the way to your destination – the day before your journey so you can prepare yourself.
It’s even more essential to keep your tyres in good condition during winter to give you better grip and traction. Legally you need your tyre tread depth to be at least 1.6mm, but you should aim for a minimum of 3mm to provide the best possible grip. Checking your tread depth regularly will let you know when it’s time to replace your tyres.
Are you one of those drivers who keeps their fuel tank just barely above empty? During winter, this is a particularly risky game to play. When it’s cold outside the last thing you want is to be stuck somewhere with no fuel left in the tank. Winter weather can also cause more traffic congestion through accidents or people slowing down to drive carefully, so your journey may end up taking much longer – and you may need more fuel – than you expect.
With the days getting shorter, you’ll be using your lights a lot more often – and a lot earlier than you’re used to. Visibility can be reduced by darkness, but also due to rain, fog, or other winter conditions – so your lights will be key to ensuring other road users can see you. Make sure you’re using your headlights when needed, and you reserve your fog lights for when there’s actual fog. See and be seen.
You can encounter unexpected delays on any journey, but it’s always more likely during the winter. Leave with plenty of time so you don’t feel the stress of running late. When the weather isn’t on your side, you may need to drive slower than usual to stay safe. Don’t feel pressured to drive at the speed limit. When dealing with heavy rain, snow, or ice, it isn’t always safe to drive as fast as the speed limit. Use your judgement and ensure you can drive safely and remain in control of your car at the speed you’re driving. Be prepared to let others know in advance that you may arrive at your destination later than originally planned to keep the pressure off yourself.
In wet or icy conditions your stopping distance will be greatly increased. You may feel you could stop in time if the person in front breaks, but most people underestimate the stopping distance needed. Play it safe and be sure to leave more distance between you and the car in front when it’s wet or extra cold outside. Remember ‘2, 4, and 10’. Keep at least 2 seconds from the vehicle in front in the dry, at least 4 seconds on wet roads, and at least 10 seconds in snow or ice.
A useful tip to keep in mind when driving in snowy or icy conditions is to drive in a higher gear. This will give you more traction and thus more control of your car. If you’re finding it difficult to start up and move off, put your car into second gear to help you smoothly pull away. Using first gear on ice doesn’t always give you much grip, which is why moving up to a higher gear can be handy.
Losing control of your car can be a scary experience, especially if you’ve unexpectedly hit a patch of black ice. The worst thing you can do in this situation is panic and slam on the brakes. Braking hard can cause you to keep skidding further. Instead, keep your hands on the wheel and try to steer into the skid. This will help you recover from the skid and get back on track.
Strong winds can make it trickier for car users to feel like they’re in full control of their vehicles. So take a moment to think how it must be for larger vehicles, such as lorries. The added height lorries have to contend with means it can be more difficult for them to stay in their lane. Because of this, it’s better to avoid overtaking lorries when it’s particularly windy out.
No one wants to end up breaking down and being stranded when it’s wet or freezing outside. But getting caught out without any supplies could make things take a real turn for the worse. It’s always worth putting together an emergency breakdown kit that you can leave in the boot of your car. Pack in some key essentials, such as a blanket, spare clothes, a torch, some bottled water, snacks, a shovel, jump-start cables, and a first aid kit.
As we move through the winter months, it’s important to keep yourself – and other road users – as safe as possible out on the road. Preparing yourself for different driving conditions, taking your time, and giving other road users plenty of space will help keep you safer out on your travels this winter.
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