Top 10 Winter Driving Tips
Talking about the weather is a national pastime in the UK for the simple reason that it's so unpredictable. One afternoon you may be driving along beneath a crisp autumnal sky, and the next morning you'll be digging your car out of the snow. Staying safe on the roads during the winter months is as much about careful planning as it is about careful driving:
- Get a service: Extreme driving conditions amplify any problems that your vehicle may have, so make sure that your car is fully serviced before the cold sets-in.
- Leave more space: If you can remember the Highway Code you'll know that braking distances are doubled in wet weather. However, you may have forgotten that they are increased tenfold in icy conditions. Leave a gap of at least 10m between yourself and the vehicle in front to ensure that you have enough time to brake safely.
- Check your tyre tread: A deep tread will help to prevent skidding in wet and icy conditions. Ideally your tread should be at least 3mm and remember that anything less than 1.6mm is illegal and will cost you 3 penalty points and a fine of up to £2,500 (and that's for each tyre).
- Drive more slowly: The best way to avoid accidents, at any time of the year, is to anticipate the road ahead. During winter this means driving slowly, smoothly and steadily. When approaching junctions cut your speed and select a lower gear to prevent sudden braking. If you do feel the car beginning to slide on ice: take your foot off the accelerator and steer gently into the direction of the skid.
- Check your tyre pressure: There's an old wives tale that lower tyre pressure will help with traction on slippery surfaces. Don't believe a word of it and make sure that your tyres are inflated to the recommended PSI.
- Plan your route: If it's snowing plan your route to avoid minor roads and instead stick to major roads; which are more likely to have been gritted. Fortunately the predictive powers of the Met Office have come on a long way since Michael Fish's 1987 'hurricane howler' and you can now find reliable weather forecasts at www.metoffice.gov.uk.
- Check your antifreeze: Make sure that your washer fluid reservoir is topped-up with a 50/50 mixture of antifreeze. Don't confuse windscreen washer antifreeze with engine antifreeze; they're entirely different products and the latter is likely to eat-away at your paintwork. Most modern cars use 'long life' antifreeze in their engines, but it's worth double checking with your dealer.
- Pack practically: An ice scraper and a can of de-icer are winter essentials, but a few extras thrown into your boot could make a roadside breakdown much more bearable. Consider the following: warm clothing, boots and blanket, a high visibility vest and a warning triangle, a map and a first aid kit. And don't forget to keep your mobile phone fully charged.
- Check your wipers: Windscreen wipers have a hard job dealing with everything that the British weather throws at them, and they get understandably tired. New wiper blades are cheap to buy and easy to replace; so any excuses just won't wash.
- Leave more time: If you are driving more slowly (and everyone else is driving more slowly) your journey will obviously take more time. Set-off earlier so that you are not in a rush and give yourself extra time to make sure that all the windows are de-iced and de-misted.