From thick fog to black ice, winter in the UK can present motorists with a whole range of challenges. To help you avoid danger when you’re behind the wheel, here are some safety tips that all drivers should know as we enter the chilly season.
Ice and snow
When temperatures tumble, you might have to de-ice your car before journeys. When you do this, don’t stop at your windscreen and other windows. If there’s any snow on the roof of your vehicle, make sure you sweep this off too. If you don’t, there’s a risk it will fall onto your windscreen while you’re driving and block your view.
To reduce the risk of skidding on the roads, it’s essential that your tyres have enough grip. Although the legal minimum tread depth is 1.6mm, experts recommend having at least 3mm - and this is especially important in winter. You might even want to consider getting winter or all-season tyres that offer better grip in cold conditions.
One of the most crucial things you can do in ice and snow to reduce the risk of accidents is to take it slow and to leave extra space between your car and the vehicle ahead. Stopping distances can be up to 10 times greater in slippery conditions, so it’s vital that you avoid sudden and harsh manoeuvres. Also, before you come to a downhill slope, reduce your speed and make sure you’re in a low gear. You should try to avoid braking when you’re travelling downhill too. If you do have to slow down, apply your brakes gently. Even if you’re careful, there’s a chance your car will skid. If this happens, try to steer gently in the direction of the skid. For example, if the back of your vehicle is sliding to the left, steer to the left. Where possible, plan your route to stick to major roads that are more likely to have been gritted and cleared of ice. Whichever route you take, watch out for black ice. As a general rule, if the temperature is very low and the road surface has a sheen and appears to be wet, drive with extreme caution. There is a chance this could be ice rather than water.
Falling temperatures increase the chances of fog, so it pays to be clued up on what to do if visibility drops when you’re travelling. Firstly, you’ll need to decide which lights to use. You’re required by law to use your headlights when visibility is significantly reduced (this is generally considered to mean when you can’t see for more than 100 metres). If visibility is especially poor, you can use your fog lights. As soon as conditions improve though, you must switch them off. If you leave these lights on, you risk dazzling other drivers and obscuring your brake lights. Adjust your speed so that you can stop in the distance you can see clearly in front of you, and make sure you leave a bigger gap than usual before the car in front (at least three seconds). Bear in mind that some drivers may not be using their lights, so you’ll have to be especially vigilant. Check your mirrors carefully before you slow down too. Motorists behind you may find it harder to react, meaning that if you slow or stop suddenly, you’re more likely to be shunted.
Strong winds can wreak havoc on the roads. From toppling high-sided vehicles, to causing cars and bikes to swerve, to bringing trees down, they pose a number of risks. If it’s windy while you’re driving, make sure you keep both hands on the wheel at all times, and prepare yourself for gusts if you’re approaching exposed stretches of highway. Be ready for sudden gusts when passing high-sided vehicles and tall buildings too, and try to keep your distance from other road users in case they get blown into your path. Keep a constant lookout for objects on the road as well, including branches and trees. You should also lower your speed so that it’s easier to stop if you do come across on obstacle in your path. This is especially important at night or if you’re travelling around blind bends.
Heavy rain and flooding
In heavy rain, you should always make sure your headlights are on - and if it’s especially heavy and visibility is very low, you may want to use your fog lights. Be sure to switch these off as soon as the rain eases though. Because it takes longer to stop on a wet surface, safety experts suggest leaving at least twice as much space between your car and the vehicle ahead. Also, drive more slowly than usual to reduce the risk of aquaplaning. If you do feel you’ve lost steering control because your tyres aren’t in proper contact with the road, hold the steering wheel tightly and slow down smoothly and gently until your tyres grip the surface again. Where possible, avoid floods and areas of standing water, and don’t be tempted to drive into water that’s moving or that’s over 10cm deep. If you’re travelling through water, move slowly so that you don’t create a bow wave, and test your brakes as soon as it’s safe to do so afterwards.
Even if you take all these tips on board and drive as carefully as possible in winter, there’s always a chance that you’ll get stuck, break down or be involved in an accident. In case this happens, it’s a good idea to pack emergency supplies including a blanket, shovel, torch, water and snacks. You should also make sure you have a charged phone on you at all times. If you have concerns about your car and the prospect of driving in these conditions is daunting, book a free winter safety check at MKD Automotive and we will check your vehicle over for you.