If you’re driving in less than perfect weather conditions, it’s important to be fully prepared. Winter comes with a lot of challenges when it comes to getting behind the wheel, from iced over windscreens to torrential rain making visibility a nightmare. But if you plan your journey, and make sure you have the tools for just about any eventuality, you should stay safe on the road.
You can never be too prepared for bad weather driving. So to help you drive as safely as possible over the winter period, we’ve outlined eight simple tips below:
1. Look Your Car Over
Before you leave on your journey, it’s a good idea to make sure that your car is up to the trip. You probably check things like your tyres, oil levels, and engine coolant levels before any big journey, but in winter, you may wish to make these checks more frequently. Other things to look over include your battery, brakes, lights and windscreen wipers. Perhaps schedule in a full service at your local garage before winter truly hits, to give yourself peace of mind.
You might also want to consider whether the journey is essential, especially if the weather is truly awful. If you’re able to put off the trip for a day or two, until the conditions outside have improved slightly, that may be the best option.
2. Check Your Tyres
As mentioned above, it’s essential to make sure that your vehicle is performing optimally before taking it for a drive in winter. One of the most important aspects of this is checking your tyres. Not all tyres in the UK are suitable for freezing temperatures, so it may be worth changing your tyres to all-season ones, or winter tyres. Such tyres will have a deeper tread depth, to give you more friction on the road.
You may not be aware that generally, the minimum tyre tread depth is 1.6mm, but in winter, you’re obligated to have a tread depth of at least 3mm. So make sure your car meets these requirements! You’re not required to use snow chains or socks when driving in the snow, but if you live somewhere where the weather is particularly fierce, it may not be a bad idea to keep some handy.
3. Be Prepared for Ice
If you’ve experienced at least one winter in Britain, you’ll probably know to expect ice. Snow is less common in the south, but you’ll almost certainly have to deice your windscreen at least a few times over winter!
If you’re in a hurry, it can be tempting to only scrape off as much ice as necessary, so that you can just about see through the windscreen. But this is how accidents can happen – it’s important to have optimum visibility, so make sure you leave yourself enough time to deice your car before a journey. You can use warm (but never boiling) water, a scraper, or deicing spray if you have any.
4. Drive Slowly
We all know that we should drive slower in wet and icy conditions. But if you’re in a rush – perhaps you spent ten minutes deicing your car in the morning – you might try and go a little bit faster. We convince ourselves that the roads look fine, so it will be safe to drive at the speed limit.
The problem is, you might not notice things like black ice on the road. Driving slower allows you a longer reaction time, and increases the likelihood of you responding in a safe and timely manner.
5. Keep Your Distance
For the majority of the time, the golden rule is that you see tyres and tarmac in front of you, leaving a distance of at least two seconds from the vehicle ahead of you. But in winter, with the possibility of skidding, this isn’t enough of a distance.
It’s recommended that you leave a distance of six seconds or more from the car in front, as driving on ice can increase the braking time by up to ten times! Even without ice, tyres don’t grip as efficiently in cold conditions, so you should leave a bigger gap between you and the vehicle ahead.
6. Don’t Panic If You Skid
If you are unlucky enough to find a patch of ice, and start skidding, it’s important to stay calm. Your initial instinct will probably be to slam on the brakes, but that can just make the situation worse.
Instead, you should steer gently into the skid, slowly pressing on the brake. For instance, if you can feel the rear of the vehicle skidding to the left, you should slowly move your steering wheel to the left also. Never take your hands off of the steering wheel, and try not to panic!
7. Keep Emergency Supplies in Your Car
While it’s unlikely that you’ll be stranded anywhere, if your car were to break down, you may get a bit uncomfortable without appropriate provisions. While you don’t want to completely fill up your boot with stuff that might be useful, there are a few essentials you should travel with when driving in winter.
These items include a phone charger or power pack, blankets and warm clothing, a torch, a first aid kit, a scraper and snow shovel, deicer, as well as a pair of jump leads. You may also want to pack some food and drink!
8. Get Breakdown Cover
If you haven’t got it already, it’s important to sign up for breakdown cover. Car accidents can increase by 20% in winter, not to mention the fact that certain parts of your vehicle, such as the battery, don’t like the cold weather!
While you can sign up for breakdown cover at the side of the road in an emergency, it will almost certainly cost you more money. It’s probably better to sign up now, and hopefully save yourself some money and hassle in the long run!