Winter Driving – Are You Ready?

Winter driving is different to driving any other time of the year. Bad weather and longer periods of darkness makes driving more hazardous. Sometimes conditions can be extreme with prolonged periods of heavy snow and floods.

Different weather conditions create different hazards. A single journey may take you into very different weather, road and traffic conditions. This means you need to be prepared for each one and to adapt the way you drive to the conditions.

Most people have very little experience of driving in extreme conditions, such as snow. Take some time to consider how it affects your driving, you cannot just drive as normal.

In very bad conditions, avoid driving completely, unless you absolutely have to make the journey and driving is the only option.

Checking the vehicle

Best practice is to have your vehicle fully serviced before winter starts and have the anti-freeze tested. If you cannot have it serviced, then do your own checks:

  • Lights are clean and working
  • Battery is fully charged
  • Windscreen, wiper blades and other windows are clean and the washer bottle is filled with screen wash
  • Tyre condition, tread depth and pressure (of all the tyres, including the spare)
  • Brakes are working well
  • Fluids are kept topped up, especially windscreen wash (to the correct concentration to prevent it freezing), anti-freeze and oil


Winter Driving Tips

  • Avoid driving while you are tired. Getting the proper amount of rest before taking on winter weather tasks reduces driving risks
  • Never warm up a vehicle in an enclosed area, such as a garage
  • Keep your fuel tank at least half full to avoid fuel line freeze-up
  • Do not use cruise control when driving on any slippery surface (wet, ice, sand)
  • Always look and steer where you want to go
  • Use your seat belt every time you get into your vehicle
  • Keep your vehicle well-ventilated. The car heater turned up full can quickly make you drowsy
  • Prepare your journey. Listen to local/national weather broadcasts and travel bulletins – especially for the areas you will be driving through. Conditions can change rapidly, check them regularly and be prepared to change your plans if conditions on your route worsen. If conditions are very bad, and the emergency services are recommending that people don’t travel, then avoid making your journey unless it is absolutely necessary.


Tips for long-distance winter trips

  • Watch weather reports prior to a long-distance drive or before driving in isolated areas. Delay trips when especially bad weather is expected. If you must leave, let others know your route, destination and estimated time of arrival
  • Keep at least half a tank of fuel in your vehicle at all times
  • If you become snow-bound, stay with your vehicle. It provides temporary shelter and makes it easier for rescuers to locate you. Do not try to walk in a severe storm. It is easy to lose sight of your vehicle in blowing snow and become lost
  • Do not over exert yourself if you try to push or dig your vehicle out of the snow.
  • Make sure the exhaust pipe is not clogged with snow, ice or mud. A blocked exhaust could cause deadly carbon monoxide gas to leak into the passenger compartment with the engine running.


Driving in the Snow

  • Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Applying the gas slowly to accelerate is the best method for regaining traction and avoiding skids. Don’t try to get moving in a hurry. And take time to slow down for a stoplight. Remember: It takes longer to slow down on icy roads.
  • Reduce your speed. The chances of skidding are much greater and your stopping distance will increase massively.
  • Only travel at a speed at which you can stop within the distance you can see to be clear. Speed limits are the maximum in ideal conditions; in difficult conditions, they can often be too fast.
  • Avoid harsh braking and acceleration, or sharp steering. Braking on an icy or snow covered bend is extremely dangerous. The centrifugal force will continue to pull you outwards and the wheels will not grip very well. This could cause your vehicle to spin. To brake on ice and snow without locking your wheels, get into a low gear earlier than normal, allow your speed to fall and use your brakes gently.
  • Slow down in plenty of time before bends and corners.
  • The normal dry pavement following distance of three to four seconds should be increased to eight to ten seconds. This increased margin of safety will provide the longer distance needed if you have to stop. You may need up to TEN TIMES the normal distance for braking.
  • Know your brakes. Whether you have antilock brakes or not, the best way to stop is threshold breaking. Keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal.
  • Do not stop if you can avoid it. There’s a big difference in the amount of inertia it takes to start moving from a full stop versus how much it takes to get moving while still rolling. If you can slow down enough to keep rolling until a traffic light changes, do it.
  • Visibility will probably be reduced, so use dipped headlights.
  • Do not power up hills. Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads just starts your wheels spinning. Try to get a little inertia going before you reach the hill and let that inertia carry you to the top. As you reach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed downhill as slowly as possible.
  • Do not stop going up a hill. There’s nothing worse than trying to get moving up a hill on an icy road. Get some inertia going on a flat roadway before you take on the hill.
  • During wintry weather, road surfaces are often wet and/or covered in frost and ice or snow. But this does not occur uniformly. A road will often have isolated patches of frost or ice after most of the road has thawed – this commonly occurs under bridges.
  • Stay home. If you really don’t have to go out, don’t. Even if you can drive well in the snow, not everyone else can. Don’t tempt fate: If you don’t have somewhere you have to be, watch the snow from indoors.


If you get stuck in snow:

  • If you get stuck in snow, revving your engine to try to power out of the rut will just make the rut worse. Instead, move your vehicle slowly backwards and forwards out of the rut using the highest gear you can.
  • If this does not work, you may have to ask a friendly passerby for a push or get your shovel out.


Emergency Kit

It is a good idea to keep an emergency kit in your car, especially if you’re going on a long journey or extreme weather is a possibility. If you must drive in extreme conditions, we recommend that you carry:

  • Tow rope
  • Shovel
  • Wellies
  • Hazard warning triangle
  • De-icing equipment
  • First aid kit
  • Torch
  • Blanket
  • Warm clothes
  • Emergency Rations
  • Mobile Phone
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