Rain, fog, ice, high winds – winter is certainly on its way. And while most parts of the UK haven’t had snow yet, it’s probably only a matter of time before the white stuff appears.
But while that can’t stop the UK’s motorists and driving professionals from continuing to take to the road, it’s more important than ever that drivers do so in safety.
Modern vehicles have never been safer, but that doesn’t mean you can sit back and let technology do all the work for you on an icy road. Drivers have a responsibility too, and that includes making sure your vehicle is in the right condition for winter and that you’re aware of the extra dangers a frosty morning or snowbound evening might hold.
To help you plan ahead, here are ten top tips for winter driving from road safety group IAM RoadSmart. They could not only save your car from extra wear or damage, but they might also save your life.
“Preparation is the key to avoiding a dangerous situation whilst driving in snowy or icy conditions,” says Richard Gladman, IAM RoadSmart’s head of driving and riding standards.
“Don’t rely on the performance of your car systems to get you out of trouble – allow time, make sure you have good visibility all round and carry the right equipment. If conditions are extreme remember the best advice is not to travel.”
Ten Top Tips to avoid slipping up this winter
1. Do you really need to travel?
If the weather conditions are severe in your area, note police advice and avoid travelling if you can. If you must travel, do so with extra caution.
2. Gently does it
Triple your stopping distance and approach every junction expecting to stop well before the give way line. It can take up to ten times as long to stop in icy conditions. Every steering, acceleration or braking input should be as smooth and gentle as possible. Don’t assume that a 4×4 SUV will stop or corner better than a normal car – often it’s quite the opposite. Four-wheel drive will help you maintain traction under acceleration, but it won’t help you during braking or cornering.
3. Can you see the light?
Keep a bottle of water in your boot to give your lights, windows and mirrors a quick clean on longer journeys. Salt quickly makes vehicles dirty, and car headlamps without washer nozzles can lose up to 40% of power and focus in about 20 miles on a gritted motorway. Likewise, your rear lights will get covered in muck very quickly in winter. That means following cars will find it harder to spot your brake lights when they come on, so keep them clean at all times.
4. Don’t ignore the signs
Never ignore any warning light that appears on your dashboard. If one appears, get it checked out as soon as possible. Being stuck on the side of the road is always annoying, but breaking down in freezing conditions is a risk as well as an annoyance.
5. Essential kit
Always carry a winter driving kit including: ice scraper, de-icer, blanket, torch, shovel, food and drink, fully charged mobile phone, reflective triangle and high visibility jacket. Almost every winter, you’ll see or read reports of cars stuck on a motorway overnight somewhere in the UK after a heavy snowfall. Be prepared in case it happens to be you this year.
6. No overtaking
When driving on a busy road, avoid overtaking a gritting lorry as the road ahead might not be treated yet. If you have any doubt, don’t risk it. Drop back a bit, so your car doesn’t get pelted by grit, and follow at a comfortable distance. For the same reason, never overtake a snow plough in heavy snow conditions.
7. Pass the salt
While roads may be gritted to give you better traction, it’s never uniformly distributed along and across the whole roadway. Some areas may not be completely treated, which can leave icy patches. Also keep an eye out for water running across the carriageway, as this can wash away the gritting salt and create a slippery ice patch across the road.
8. Keep it clean
Keep your car clean throughout the winter as the salt in grit can cause corrosion to any exposed parts. Wash and rinse alloy wheels too; the smallest scratch can quickly cause corrosion. And, obviously, a clean windscreen is much easier to see out of than a dirty one.
9. Go on, my sun
Just because the winter sun is out, don’t assume the roads might not be icy. Micro-climates of icy patches will linger in areas such as bridges and exposed sections, where the sun has not yet reached.
10. Tread carefully
Ensure your tyres have at least 2mm of tread. The more tread tyres have, the more water they can cope with. Don’t let tyres wear down to the legal limit of 1.6mm. Consider winter tyres or all-season tyres if you think they might help.