It is fair to say that winter is finally upon us – with more bad weather on its way. Last week, gales of up to 165mph battered the country, bringing chaos to parts of northern England and Scotland. We have heard about a couple of tragic deaths possibly related to the conditions and the Met Office has issued weather warnings for wind and snow.
Longer periods of darkness, snow, ice, heavy rain and freezing fog can make for treacherous driving conditions, as was the case particularly over the last two winters, so it pays to be prepared and adapt the way we drive to suit the conditions.
At RoSPA, we have issued some winter driving tips to help you stay informed and reduce the risk of having an accident. I have also recorded a video which summarises the tips in more detail to ensure you are fully prepared. Planning your journey in advance at this time of year could make all the difference and you should adjust your driving accordingly to suit the conditions.
It is important that you do not get caught out by Mother Nature this year, so make sure that your vehicle is in tip top condition before setting out on the road. Check the following:
- Lights are clean and working
- Battery is fully charged
- The windscreen, wiper blades and other windows are clean and the washer bottle filled with screen wash
- Tyre condition, tread depth and pressure (of all the tyres, including the spare)
- Brakes are working as they should do
- Fluids are kept topped up, especially windscreen wash (to the correct concentration to prevent it freezing), anti-freeze and oil
- It is also good practice to stock up on de-icer, windscreen wash, oil and anti-freeze and keep them topped up.
Among the most vital things to remember to check are the tyres. Make sure they are legal. We recommend that worn tyres are replaced with an equivalent new unit well before the legal minimum tread limit of 1.6mm is reached – ideally as soon as they reach 3mm. After all, the tyres are the vehicle’s only point of contact with the road and therefore need to be in excellent condition.
It is also worth packing an emergency kit, particularly on long journeys. An energy drink, blanket and the odd chocolate bar could make all the difference if you become trapped in a snow drift or stuck on a motorway overnight. We also advise carrying a shovel, tow rope, Wellington boots, a working torch, hazard warning triangle, first aid kit (in good order) and a fully charged mobile phone.
Hitting the road during the winter months should be approached with caution. If it is blowing a blizzard outside and hitting sub-zero temperatures, ask yourself, “Is this journey absolutely necessary?” Remember, conditions can change quickly and your chosen route could worsen as a result. But ultimately, the responsibility lies with the driver in determining what an “essential” journey is; just ensure you keep up-to-date with weather broadcasts and travel bulletins in order to stay one step ahead.
The key message for winter driving is space and plenty of it. In snow and ice you may need up to 10 times the normal distance for braking. That is why it pays to drive at a safe distance from the car in front. In snow, or on icy or snow covered roads, your speed should be reduced to limit your chances of skidding. Your stopping distance will increase massively, so adjust your speed accordingly.
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.
Refresher driving training is a great way of preparing yourself for the dangerous road conditions which may may greet you on the roads this winter. Your employer may offer driver training or alternatively you can contact the RoSPA Advanced Drivers and Riders group in your area. To find out which is the nearest to you, go to www.roadar.org
And, if you do find yourself in trouble this winter, do not abandon your vehicle. Call the emergency services on your mobile phone or from a roadside telephone and stay with your vehicle until help arrives. Stay calm and try not to panic.
Bob Smalley, RoSPA’s chief driving examiner