When winter arrives, drivers need to think about much more than just how to keep themselves warm after the temperatures drop.
Cold and wintry weather creates dangerous road conditions that make driving in winter more challenging than at any other time of year. Ice, snow, rain and fog are just a few of the types of weather that drivers must understand in order to keep themselves, their passengers and other road users safe.
Here are six tips for staying safe on the roads in the winter.
The most important decision for safe winter driving is to be ready. Checking the weather forecast, especially before long car journeys, is the only way to know what lies ahead and how to prepare for your drive.
If you’re expecting difficult conditions on a long journey it’s important to be prepared for the worst.
Begin the journey with a fully charged phone, just in case. Make sure you have plenty of warm clothes (including hats and gloves), as well as a blanket. Finally, carry enough food and water for everyone.
If possible, you should take the time to find a route to your destination that allows you to stay on main roads as much as possible in bad weather. These will be better maintained, busier and less affected by ice, snow or flooding.
Know the snow
Driving in snow is more difficult than driving in normal conditions and should be avoided if possible. But if your journey is absolutely necessary, taking it slow is vital. Keep your average speed much lower than usual.
You should also accelerate gradually, and brake gradually. Sudden changes in speed can be dangerous on snowy surfaces.
It’s also vital to keep your car clear of snow. Remember to clear the roof too!
Change your stopping distances
The Highway Code includes a guide to safe stopping distances at speeds between 20mph and 70mph. It’s recommended that drivers allow for double these distances in wet conditions, and for ten times these distances when the roads are icy.
For example, at 30mph the typical stopping distance – the combined thinking distance and braking distance typically taken to stop – is 23 metres, or about six car lengths. But on a wet road the stopping distance you allow for should be 46 metres (about twelve car lengths), and on an icy or snowy road the typical stopping distance means you should allow at least 230 metres (about sixty car lengths).
In foggy conditions it’s advisable to make sure your speed allows you to stop within the distance you can see.
Take care in windy conditions
Something many drivers don’t consider when it comes to driving safely in winter is the wind. Although they rarely directly affects the road surface itself, high winds can still create treacherous conditions on exposed roads.
If you’re driving a car the wind should be manageable. But what about other types of road user? Cyclists, motorcyclists, lorries and buses – particularly those that are high-sided – are vulnerable to strong gusts. As a responsible driver you should leave extra room when passing them.
Check your tyres
One of the most important safety features on your car in winter is the tyres. All-season or winter tyres are built for your safety in the winter and you’ll need to make sure they’re in the right condition in order to help them to help you.
In particular it’s important that they’re inflated to the appropriate pressure, and that the depth of the tyre tread is at least the legal minimum, which is 1.6mm in the UK. There’s a simple test for this: place the edge of a 20p coin into the tread, and the outer band of the coin’s design should be covered by the tread.
Look out for flooding
Finally, stay vigilant. Snow and ice are less common than wet conditions, but the rain can cause problems too.
If you’re driving in (or after) heavy rain, keep an eye out for flooding. Driving through standing water or puddles can be dangerous or cause damage to your car, especially if you don’t know for sure how deep the flooding is. If in doubt, steer clear!
There are many other ways to keep safe while driving in the winter. Further research is recommended.