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Winter driving            

                           November 2008

Winter driving


winter drivingWinter is coming, whether we like it or not!! But while we ensure our house is insulated and warm, few of us make any extra effort to prepare our car and driving skills for the challenging winter conditions.

The Highways Agency is responsible for our motorways and trunk roads and knows just how many problems are caused to drivers by winter weather; and also how many problems could have been avoided with just a little careful preparation.

Before you start

They have issued a number of hints and tips to help everyone get through bad weather safely.  Some of it is common sense, but it is a good reminder nevertheless:

  • Get your vehicle serviced. That way you know it won’t let you down even if the weather does
  • Goes without saying but check and if necessary replace the anti-freeze in the radiator
  • Most batteries last between two and four years. Make sure yours is fully charged and replace it if you’re not sure it’s reliable
  • Lights can get filthy with all the spray in winter. Keep them clean and check the bulbs regularly so you’ll be prepared for lower visibility and shorter days
  • Getting a better grip on the road takes more tyre tread in wet or icy conditions. Ensure your tyres are inflated to the manufacturers’ recommended pressure and have at least 3mm of tread depth
  • Make sure your wiper blades aren’t worn so you can keep your windscreen as clean as possible for the extra spray, ice and rain you get in winter. Keep your screen wash topped up
  • Dirty windows and mirrors can make it hard to see as the low winter sun hits. Make sure you keep them clean and free of ice and snow in colder weather. And of course ensure your windows are properly clear and de-misted before you set off!

One tip few of us adhere to is obtaining a weather forecast before setting off. If we are just popping down to the local town, then this isn’t really necessary, but on any longer journeys it can be very worthwhile knowing what might be in store. Even if bad weather doesn’t happen, these days there is no telling when you might be held up for hours behind an accident or congestion. On a motorway this can become a real trauma if you become stuck in a major queue of traffic with no access to shops, toilets or any facilities.

Basic recommendations that should be kept in your car during the winter months include:

  • a torch
  • an ice scraper and de-icer
  • a set or warm spare clothes and a blanket
  • a pair of boots
  • a first aid kit
  • battery jump leads

It can be worth keeping a pair of sunglasses in the glove box to protect from the glare of low winter sun; and of course on any long journey a thermos with hot drink and some food is always a good idea in case you are stuck.

On the move in winter

Bear in mind that in winter in the UK, roads are rarely completely dry. When you remember that stopping can take twice as long on wet roads, it makes sense to adjust your driving to winter conditions. If your vehicle loses its grip, or aquaplanes, on surface water take your foot off the accelerator to slow down. Don’t brake or steer suddenly because you won’t have any control.

It can be fun doing a skid pan course to prepare you for winter; it is excellent experience and of course you never know when you suddenly might have to put your new found skills into practice.

In windy weather it is not just high-sided vehicles that can be affected. Strong gusts can blow a vehicle, cyclist or motorcyclist off course, especially on open stretches of road.

Floods seem to be an increasing problem here in Britain. The deepest water is usually nearest the kerb, but of course all too often you can’t avoid this if there are oncoming cars in the other lane. If you do have to drive through floods, use first gear and keep your revs high to avoid stalling.  Most people know to test the brakes immediately after a flood.

If you are unfortunate enough to  hit a major traffic jam, don’t run your engine all the time; just keep it going long enough to warm the car, keeping one window open just a little for ventilation; that way you won’t go through all your petrol too quickly. If things are becoming difficult, raise your feet off the floor as a lot of cold can get into the car from there and it can work its way up through your body.

Really so much of good winter driving is pure common sense; but it is so easy to ignore common sense when one is in a hurry. At some point most of us will have been running late and rushed into the car without any pre-thought.  Taking just a minute to check you really are properly prepared for the journey could make all the difference.



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