Drivers should have safety at the front of their minds at all times; a small mistake or slip in concentration can prove very dangerous indeed. In winter the risks associated with driving are increased even further and so extra care has to be taken.
With snow and ice much more likely to appear in winter there is greater scope for skidding, general loss of control and the inability to complete journeys. This presents risks to many parties including pedestrians, which is why taking any measures possible to increase vehicle control/safety is critical.
This article will look at several steps that can be taken to increase your safety levels when driving in winter weather conditions. It is broken down into topical sections for easy reading and future reference.
Preparation is the key to success in many of life’s ventures, it is no different when it comes to planning a car journey. In winter you have to prepare for a number of possible situations that could leave you in danger.
1. Pack a survival kit.
Winter survival kits are simple collections of goods you keep securely stored in your car on lease. Their contents cover many of the core situations that may put your safety at risk when traveling over the colder months. For the expense of a couple of low-cost items, such a kit can make a huge difference to your safety, mobility and wellbeing whilst driving.
Here are the contents of a typical winter survival kit for drivers:
2. Use winter tyres.
Winter tyres are specially made to handle low grip conditions such as wet, icy, snowy and slushy roads. Their composition is a lot softer than regular tyres and the mould contains a greater volume of natural rubber. The result is that they can find a greater grip on surfaces that have low friction. The tyre essentially sinks down more under the weight giving the driver more control.
3. Check your washer and antifreeze levels regularly.
It is important all year round to have your screenwash topped up (in fact if you can’t clear your screen of dirt/grease the car is deemed not roadworthy). During winter it is also important to make sure that your screenwash contains an adequate amount of antifreeze to stop it freezing under cold conditions. This way you’ll still be able to clear your screen of anything that may impair your visibility whilst driving.
4. Warm up the engine and defrost in advance of your journey.
Make sure you take the time to warm up your engine and defrost all windows in advance of starting your journey. In winter it is all too easy to sleep in and have to rush off in the mornings. However, doing so can increase your risk of a collision if there isn’t time to fully clear all your windows before commencing your journey.
5. Clear as much snow off of your vehicle as possible.
It is very important to clear all snow off of your vehicle; especially from the roof and the area covering the headlights. This is because if the loose snow is to fall forward suddenly when braking you can be left with zero visibility. In adverse weather conditions, you should always have your headlights on and they need to be visible, so make sure there’s no snow over the headlight covers before you set off.
6. Listen to travel bulletins before setting off.
It is always advisable to take notice of travel bulletins on the radio or television before traveling. It’s better if you can gather information from a local news source as they’ll likely give you more details relevant to your journey. If severe weather warnings have been issued and conditions are set to get worse only travel if it is absolutely necessary and there are no alternatives.
Check windscreen wipers for wear and dirt.
It’s very important to check your windshield wipers before setting off on a journey. They’re absolutely vital to keeping you safe whilst driving in bad weather. You should first check that the blades are not worn or dirty. If either of these is true then the wiper’s ability to clear your screen will be severely impaired. Secondly, you should also make sure that they’re able to move. This may sound obvious but often overnight wiper blades can end up frozen to the windshield. If you try to use frozen wipers when driving it’ll likely lead to the motors burning out; which is unsafe and costly to repair too..
When driving in adverse weather conditions you have to actively differentiate the way the car is controlled. If this is not done then you can be in danger of skidding and cause harm to others and yourself. The following section will give you some actionable tips on how to minimise your risk when driving on roads restricted by ice and snow.
1. Driving in as high a gear as possible whilst keeping revs low
Getting into a high gear quickly without over-revving will give you more control and less chance of wheelspin. It is advisable that you start the car in 2nd gear when possible and always pay attention to raising the clutch slowly when taking off.
2. Adjusting to skids
Skidding is the main cause of accidents when the weather gets colder. With road surface conditions deteriorating quickly the number of control drivers have is decreased. All of the advice in this ‘changing your driving behaviour’ section is aimed at reducing the possibility of skidding. However, if you should find your car skidding follow the instructions in the video below to best protect yourself and others.
3. Pay special attention when driving on hills
When driving up a hill with ice or snow present you want to keep your speed at a consistent level. Slowing down can lead to the car losing control and sliding back down under icy conditions. When approaching any hill make sure you’re in a gear that is low enough to handle the entire contour. If you have to change gear (even quickly) it can spell disaster when tackling an icy hill.
When going downhill slow down considerably in advance and get into a lower gear before descending. This way you’ll have maximum control and be able to adjust more easily if there is risk of skidding. You basically want to increase your traction and this is the best way of doing so.
4. Slow down (even more) when approaching corners
Driving around corners when the road is icy or slippy is known to be one of the main causes for loss of vehicle control. Therefore it is very important to adjust your speed even more and well in advance when approaching a bend.
When negotiating the corner make sure that your steering movements are smooth and not jerky. You want to go round corners with more of a gradual arc than angled turns where possible. It is sudden movements (either from steering or breaking) that initiate skidding and can cause harm to yourself and others.
5. Adjust your breaking
Breaking is very important when driving on an icy or snowy road. You have to take care to break early and gradually as a sudden hit on the brakes greatly increases the chance of skidding. Obviously combining general slower driving speeds with adjusted breaking will aid controlling the vehicle even further.
Should you start to feel the car skidding violently when breaking, the best course of action is to release the brake and clutch and control the vehicle as best as you can.
Finally, remember your stopping distances, it can take up to 10 times longer to stop in conditions that are slippery or icy. Always keep as sensible a distance as you can from the vehicle in front when driving in adverse weather conditions.
Keeping safe whilst driving during winter is mostly a matter of making preparations. This could be in the form of getting together supplies as recommended for the ‘survival kit’ mentioned above. Or alternatively, it could be in the form of preparing your knowledge of how to change your driving behaviour to different conditions.
Hopefully, you’ll not have to use the knowledge shared in this article for obvious reasons. But should you find yourself in difficulty this winter keep calm, act rationally and you should be okay. It is often irrational thinking/actions that put people in real danger compared to the situation they’re in.
Stay safe and have a good winter!
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