Driving in winter is hazardous. The harsh weather conditions and limited light can make the safest roads treacherous. All of us on the road need to take care and be able to adapt quickly to the road and weather conditions. Spending a little time preparing for a journey can prevent potential tragedy and expense later on.
Just last night I was out helping a friend of mine that had been smacked by a 4×4, she ended up getting checked by the paramedics, then a hospital visit before finally getting home sore but alive. The guy driving the 4×4 said he couldn’t stop in time and he didn’t have enough grip to steer out of the way.
I’m lucky, I can walk to the Outdoor Revival office so I don’t have to do the early morning dodgems with the cars on the highway, many are not so fortunate though so this article is for you. Much of it is common sense but it’s good to be reminded, and I hope some of these tips help you.
As with most things planning makes a huge difference, there’s a quote I’ve often heard, especially in military circles and that’s “Fail to plan – Plan to fail.” Make going out in your car a conscious thing.
Be aware of the weather forecasts, both national and local, and not just for the days you are traveling, but several days before and after as well. Keep an eye on the forecasts: the weather can change rapidly and unexpectedly.
Be prepared to change your plans if you need to. Don’t travel if there’s official advise you not to. In these circumstances, consider postponing your trip or using other safer means of transport. Ask yourself if you need to travel at all. If you do decide you need to travel in adverse conditions, use these simple precautions:
- Leave an itinerary – Ensure someone knows the dates, times, destinations and route of your journey.
- Have alternate routes ready.
- Keep your gas tank as full as you can all the time.
- Ensure you have an emergency kit with you.
- Make sure your windscreen is clear of ice before you set off.
On a personal level
Do you know how to drive in adverse conditions? Rain, snow, ice, mud, sand all require different driving techniques, if you are unsure you may need some training which is easy to get. A few sessions with a driving instructor may prove helpful, even life-saving and there are organizations such as the Advanced Drivers of America (or RoSPA Advanced Drivers and Riders if you’re in the UK) that can point you in the right direction.
If you are driving as part of your employment, your employer may be able to provide the training or help finance it.
If you’re feeling unwell or suffering a medical condition that could be aggravated by environmental, road or traffic conditions, don’t drive.
Make sure your vehicle is up to the journey
Make the more obvious checks that should be done before any big trip – lights, battery, windscreen, wiper blades, screen washing fluid, tires, brakes and oil. But for winter also ensure that there is plenty of anti-freeze, snow tires, if needed, equipped, and the windscreen fluid is at a sufficient concentration to prevent freezing.
Have an emergency kit on hand
Your car could break down or become stranded in severe weather. If this happens, you’ll be glad to own an emergency kit. This should consist of warm clothes, suitable footwear, a car blanket, water, some food, a fully charged mobile phone, torch, shovel, tow rope, de-icing gear, and of course a full first aid kit.
Driving in ice and snow
This is where some training can come in really handy. Even if you are an experienced driver, don’t leave anything to chance. Slow down and travel at a speed at which you could stop easily. Ensure the gap between you and the car in front is at least 5 times the normal distance recommended for braking. Do not brake harshly. Move into lower gear early before braking. Remember you have very little control when you’re on ice and snow, so steer gently.
Make sure your vehicle is well-ventilated, nad your visibility is good, clean the windows, headlights and wheel arches often and make sure to use your headlights, it really helps you to be seen even if you don’t feel you need them to see. Be aware that road surfaces vary in cold weather. There are often patches of ice on the road, especially beneath bridges, so be aware of this.
Stuck in snow
First rule – Don’t panic.
Don’t rev your engine and spin your wheels; it will only get you deeper in a rut. Try to establish a backward and forward rocking movement in the highest gear. If that fails, ask for help from a passing motorist. If you have packed a tow rope in your emergency kit (always a good idea), the motorist could pull you out.
Stuck in a snow drift
Call the emergency services and don’t leave your vehicle. Don’t keep warm by running your engine, breathing carbon monoxide fumes can be fatal, and there’s more chance of fumes getting into the car if it’s covered in snow. Instead, wear the extra clothing you brought in your emergency kit. You did bring some extra clothing didn’t you?
Driving in the rain
When it rains you lose visibility and traction, you have a lot less grip on the road. You should slow down and be aware that at least double the normal stopping distance is needed. Drive with windscreen wipers and headlights on. One of the big dangers when it comes to driving in the rain is surface water.
Water that’s sitting on the road, it doesn’t have to be very deep to affect you when driving through it, problems occur when the tire tread can’t channel water fast enough so the tire drives on the water rather than the road, this means that the tire effectively loses contact with the road and will, as a result, lose all grip which means you lose the ability to steer.
If this happens to you, don’t accelerate or brake. Just let the vehicle coast until the tires can contact the road again and continue, the faster you travel the worse it will affect you. To avoid this situation completely, simply reduce your speed.
If you don’t know how deep the water is don’t drive into it. It is better to keep near the curb, where the water is shallowest. Be aware of waves and spray that passing vehicles can make.
If you do end up in deep water, drive in first gear and try to keep a forward momentum. If you fear for your safety, call the emergency services and follow the advice given.
Test your brakes after passing through a flooded road before you continue your journey.
Fog can be bad news so when possible avoid driving in it. But if it is absolutely necessary, use your headlights on low and drive slowly. Be aware that fog can be patchy, so do not presume to know what is ahead or beside you.
Don’t speed up as soon as you can see. Turn off the radio or other sources of noise and use your sense of hearing. Make sure you have made the standard preparations for a journey described above. Never park on the road in a fog without visible lights on.
Winter sunshine is often at a low angle and can cause serious difficulties for drivers, reduce your speed and use the sun shades as well as sunglasses where appropriate. Reduce glare by keeping the windscreen clean.
If the lighting is poor and it’ not because of the sun reduce your speed and make sure you’ve taken your sunglasses off.
Avoid bridges and driving beside high sided vehicles, there can also be debris on the road that you should watch out for as well as other vehicles that could drift across lanes due to the wind pushing them.
Hopefully, all of us will have a great winter with no accidents, following these simple suggestions could help make that happen.
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We live in a beautiful world, get out there and enjoy it.
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