Driving safely in winter conditions

At this icy time of year, driving conditions can become extremely dangerous. Stay safe this winter and avoid having to sit at the side of the road waiting for breakdown recovery by following these winter driving tips.

Your vehicle

Maintaining the condition of your vehicle in the winter weather is imperative to your safety. With breakdowns more common at this time of year, ensure your car can meet the demands of the severe weather.

  • Batteries normally last around five years and with lights, heaters and wipers putting high demands on your battery, replacing one if it is nearing the end of that time could save you the trouble of breaking down and having to sit at the side of the road waiting for a recovery truck. Alternatively, get your battery tested when the winter is approaching.
  • Don’t overuse your heaters when it is unnecessary to do so.
  • If you have not used your car for a while, you may need to charge the battery first.
  • If your car will not start, don’t keep trying to start it constantly. Instead leave a 30 second gap between attempts.
  • Ensure you switch off all lights, wipers and heaters before switching off your engine as this could unnecessarily drain the battery next time you turn on the ignition. Also unplug any chargers and turn off the radio.
  • In the cold weather you should have a 50/50 mix of both anti-freeze and water in your cooling system to protect from freezing.
  • Consider getting winter tyres or those with a deeper tread.
  • Renew worn wiper blades and make sure your window screen and mirrors are kept clean.
  • Stop locks and doors from freezing by using WD-40 or dabbing Vaseline around rubber door seals.
  • Keep your tank as full as possible in case you have to wait for longer periods of time than expected.
  • Finally, make sure you have adequate breakdown cover in case the worst does happen.

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Driving in snow and ice

When the snow falls and ice forms, driving can become more dangerous. It’s important to follow safety advice to avoid causing an accident. The most important rule is to remember that if the weather gets too bad, don’t drive unless it is absolutely necessary.

  • The tyres need to have good tread on them to be able to grip when driving on snow and ice. Make sure you check the condition of your tyres during the winter and consider changing to a deeper tread if you live in an area where snow and ice is common.
  • Remove the snow from the top of your car. It could fall onto your window screen whilst you are driving and restrict your vision.
  • Make sure you turn off your wipers before you turn off the ignition. If they are set to go when you turn the car on and they are frozen to your screen, you could blow a fuse and rip off the rubber blades.
  • De-ice the car using lukewarm water or a de-icer and use a screen wash that protects down to at least -35. This will prevent the water from freezing.
  • Don’t brake or steer sharply. To avoid needing to do this, drive slower.
  • Always use dipped headlights so that you can be easily seen.
  • Other traffic on the road may make unexpected actions caused by the snow or ice. Cars may slide or they might not stop where you would expect, so stay vigilant and watch the behaviour of other road users.
  • If you have to abandon your vehicle, try and move it as far off the road or to the side of the road as possible.
  • To avoid revs going too high, start in second gear and then stay in a higher gear as you will have more control.
  • Plan your journey so that you use busy main roads. Don’t use side streets as these are less likely to have been gritted.
  • Keep a bigger gap between you and the car in front. Stopping distances increase by up to 10 times when driving in icy conditions.

Driving in rain

  • Plan your journey and try to avoid areas that you know are likely to be flooded.
  • Check that your windscreen wipers are working fully.
  • Fill your tank before your journey as using your lights and heater uses more fuel than normal.
  • Drive slower and make sure you leave double the normal space between you and the driver in front. If someone fills the gap then you should drop back further for a safe gap.
  • Use dipped headlights so that you can be easily seen by other drivers.
  • Slow down and stop where needed to avoid splashing pedestrians and cyclists when driving through large puddles. Deep water can also cause aquaplaning so remember to drive slowly through puddles.
  • Test your brakes after driving through water.
  • If you are driving through water and your steering becomes unresponsive, ease off the accelerator to slow down rather than braking harshly.
  • Don’t drive through fast moving water as you could be swept away.

Driving in high winds

  • Plan your journey so that you are travelling on a more sheltered route where possible. Listen to local radio news for information about any fallen trees and blocked roads.
  • Avoid bridges and high open roads where possible.
  • Increase the distance between you and the car in front and when overtaking, leave a wider gap. When passing high vehicles, be cautious as when you come from behind the shelter of the vehicle, you may be exposed to side winds.
  • Be prepared for sudden gusts of wind by consistently holding your steering wheel tightly.
  • Allow extra room for cyclists, motorbikes, lorries and buses as these are affected more by the wind. Leave plenty of room when overtaking.
  • Park your car somewhere safe. Don’t park underneath trees in case they may fall.
  • Beware of vehicles that may be blown into your path. Vehicles towing caravans are at particular risk of swaying.

Emergency car kit

If you do break down during the winter season, ensure you are prepared for the harsh weather by keeping an emergency kit in your car.

We recommend you keep the following:

  • A torch and extra batteries
  • Gritting salt or sand (Cat litter works just as well)
  • Ice scraper and de-icer
  • Screen wash
  • Blanket/warm clothing
  • Bottled water
  • Non-perishable snacks
  • Mobile phone and in car charger
  • Reflective jacket
  • Battery jump leads
  • Tow rope
  • Sun glasses – for low sun glare

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