Winter driving part 2: snow, ice, rain, fog and winter sun
The tougher driving conditions in winter require greater concentration and understanding of how to deal with expected and unexpected challenges. Even if we persuade our parents to stay at home, we may have to get to them instead.
Dave Hall of CAT Driving offers some invaluable advice to anyone who has to venture out in bad weather. We recommend passing the link to this article to family, carers, district nurses – anyone who has to go out in their cars.
Snow or ice
If you find yourself driving in snow or on icy or snow covered roads, adapt your driving accordingly:
- 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
- Increase the gap between you and the vehicle in front. You may need up to ten times the normal distance for braking
- Avoid harsh braking and acceleration, or sharp steering. Always reduce your speed smoothly and in plenty of time on slippery surfaces. In harsh conditions use your gears to assist you in slowing down. 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
- Road conditions. Be aware that in 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
- Side roads. If you are travelling on the main road watch out for cars emerging from side roads. The driver may be in summer mode and has left his/her braking too late and may slide into your path
- Slow down in plenty of time before bends and corners. 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
- Keep your vehicle well-ventilated. The car heater turned up full can quickly make you drowsy
- Clean up. In snow, stop frequently to clean the windows, wheel arches, lights and number plates.
- Visibility will probably be reduced, so use dipped headlights
- Watch for breaks between trees you may be affected by wind gusts or icy roads
- Caution. Treat everyone else on the road with caution as there are alot of idiots out there!
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. It's called rocking the vehicle out of trouble.
If this doesn't work, you may have to ask a friendly passer-by for a push or get your shovel out. Again do not spin the wheels. Just rock the car slowly and you will get out.
If you get caught in a snow drift
Don't leave your vehicle. Call your breakdown service or the emergency services and let help come to you. Run your engine for five minutes watching that the engine temperature doesn’t rise too much. Make sure your exhaust is clear of snow before moving off.
Rain reduces your ability to see and greatly increases the distance required to slow down and stop. Remember that you will need about twice your normal braking distance. Use windscreen wipers, washers and dipped headlights. Drive smoothly and plan your moves in plenty of time.
Aquaplaning is caused by driving too fast into surface water. When the tyre tread cannot channel away enough water, tyres contact with the road and your car will float on a wedge of water.
Aquaplaning can be avoided by reducing speed in wet conditions. Having the correct tyre pressure and tyre tread depth will maximise your tyres' ability to maintain their road grip. If it happens, ease off the accelerator and brakes until your speed drops sufficiently for the car tyres to make contact with the road again.
- Avoid the deepest water –usually near the kerb
- Don't attempt to cross if the water seems too deep
- If you are not sure of the water's depth, look for an alternative route
- If you decide to risk it, drive slowly in first gear but keep the engine speed high by slipping the clutch. This will stop you from stalling.
- Be aware of the bow wave from approaching vehicles. Operate an informal “give way” with approaching vehicles
- Remember to test your brakes when you are through the flood
Avoid driving in fog unless your journey is absolutely necessary. Fog is one of the most dangerous weather conditions. An accident involving one vehicle can quickly involve many others, especially if they are driving too close to one another.
If you must drive:
- Follow weather forecasts and general advice to drivers in the local and national media
- Allow plenty of extra time for your journey
- Check your car before you set off. Make sure everything is in good working order, especially the lights
- Reduce your speed and keep it down
- Switch on headlights and fog lamps if visibility is reduced
- If you can see the vehicles to your rear, the drivers behind can see you – switch off your rear fog lamps to avoid dazzling them
- Use the demister and windscreen wipers
- Do not “hang on” to the rear lights of the car in front as you will be too close to be able to brake safely
- Switch off distracting noises and open the window slightly so that you can listen for other traffic, especially at crossroads and junctions
- Beware of speeding up immediately as visibility improves slightly. In patchy fog you could find yourself “driving blind” again only moments later
- If you break down, get the vehicle off the road as soon as possible and inform the police. Never park on the road in fog and never leave it without warning lights of some kind if it is on the wrong side of the road
- Hold on tight to your steering wheel
- Avoid bridges
Ironically, having talked about all these poor winter weather conditions, winter suns can also cause difficulties as the angle of the sun in the sky will frequently be too low for your visor to help. If blinded by glare:
- Reduce your speed
- Reduce the effect of glare by keeping both the inside and outside of your windscreen clean and grease free
- If you wear sunglasses (with prescription lenses if necessary) take them off whenever the sun goes in. They should not be worn in duller weather or at night as they seriously reduce the ability to see
Read Winter driving part 1: Being prepared here.
CAT Driving operates in Surrey and offers refresher training for older and nervous drivers. Call Dave Hall on 07531 877055 for more information.
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