Now winter is finally here, driving in snowy and icy conditions is even more likely for Britain’s motorists.
To help provide peace of mind, ALA GAP Insurance have put together the top winter driving tips to help keep you safe – whether driving in snow, ice or other unfavourable conditions.
Keep Your Car Properly Maintained
It’s a good idea to perform a vehicle check at the start of winter to ensure that it is in an acceptable condition for winter driving. This can be done yourself or through a professional service. Ensuring your battery is fully charged is vital, as battery life can be shortened by cold weather – an occasional longer journey should keep it charged up. Check that your wiper blades are clean and fully operational and that your windscreen and windows are also clean. Make sure that this standard of cleanliness is maintained by keeping your screen wash topped up as much as possible and check lights regularly to stay safe during the increasingly darker mornings and evenings. Vital fluids, such as oil and anti-freeze, should also be kept topped up.
Although they aren’t mandatory in the UK, unlike much of mainland Europe, winter tyres may also be worth equipping your car with. This is more applicable if you live in more rural or remote areas, where adverse weather conditions can remain a problem for longer. If you don’t have winter tyres or decide they aren’t necessary, ensure that your normal tyres are properly inflated with plenty of tread depth – 3mm is recommended for the winter months. Anything under 2mm should be addressed and dealt with as soon as possible before undertaking any winter driving.
Always ensure you have plenty of fuel to either get you home in delays or keep the engine running to keep you warm. However, if you do this, please make sure your exhaust is not blocked by snow to avoid inhaling highly toxic carbon monoxide fumes. If there is any risk of this, do not run the engine at all. Even if it is safe, try not to run the engine for more than 10-15 minutes every hour.
Plan your journey
If you have decided that driving in adverse winter conditions is a necessity, it is important to plan-ahead and consider your options before you begin your journey. Keep up to date with local weather updates as conditions can change rapidly. If the weather does intensify to the point where authorities are recommending to not travel at all, ask yourself whether it is necessary to make the journey you’re planning. If it is a matter of urgency to travel, then take some precautions before setting off. This could be letting someone know where you are going and your estimated time of arrival, so that they can come to your aid, should you get into trouble.
It would be a good idea to also have a couple of back-up routes to your destination planned in case your main route becomes obstructed or too treacherous to use. Try to stick to major roads where possible, as they are more likely to have been gritted, decreasing your chances of getting stuck or losing control. Even though built-up urban areas are likely to have gritted roads, the same cannot necessarily be said for more rural roads.
Ensure your car is free of snow before starting your journey, including your roof, as snow could slip down and obscure your vision or blow back and obscure the vision of those behind you, even potentially causing an accident.
Speed and Control
The golden rule of winter driving is always simple; reduce your speed. Driving in winter offers a range of new driving challenges, especially when the weather is bad and the days get shorter with less visibility. As such, adapting your driving to reduce the odds of skidding and decrease your stopping distance is vital. However, your stopping distance could be affected by slippery conditions, so increasing the gap between your car and the car in front is advised. Get your speed right by driving fast enough to keep momentum but slow enough so that you don’t lose control. Brake, accelerate and steer as smoothly as possible. Sharp steering and harsh braking should be avoided.
Getting stuck in snow
If you are unfortunate enough to get stuck in the snow, remain calm. There are a few things you can do to ease yourself out of your position:
- Move the steering wheel from side to side to clear as much snow as possible and don’t try to keep moving if the wheels spin, as the wheels will dig in further.
- Use a shovel to move as much snow as possible from around the wheels then use cat litter, sand or gravel around the wheels to try to get as much traction as possible.
- Change from forward to reverse and back again (second gear can be better than first gear for this). Give a light touch on the accelerator until the vehicle gets going.
In the worst-case scenario, you’ll probably have to get use a shovel, and dig away the snow from around your wheels. Alternatively, you might have to flag down a cooperative passer-by to help give you a push out of the snow. Make sure you’re wrapped up warm!
Aquaplaning and Flooding
Aquaplaning occurs when a vehicle is travelling too fast across surface water, which can cause the vehicle to stop responding to control inputs from the driver because of the lack of traction. To prevent your vehicle from aquaplaning in severely wet conditions, reduce your speed. If aquaplaning occurs, then ease off your accelerator and your brakes until you slow down enough for your tyres to regain their grip on the road.
Similarly, if the road ahead of you is flooded, avoid where the water is deepest (often near the kerb). If the flooding looks too deep to pass through or if you are unsure, consider taking an alternative route. If you choose to go through the water, drive at a measured pace in first gear. Remember to check your brakes once you’re successfully through the flooding to make sure they’re still fully operational.
If the worst happens and you find yourself stranded on the side of the road in the middle of a harsh winter, don’t panic. Call the Emergency services from your mobile phone and do NOT stray from your vehicle.
Drive safely and if you have any other winter driving tips then we’d love to hear from you.
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