Following what felt like weeks of wet weather, the country is experiencing a cold snap. The mornings are alive with the sound of ice scrapers on windscreens and traffic reports warning of congestion caused by ice-related accidents.
The combination of shorter daylight hours, heavy rain, snow, ice and low sun creates hazardous winter driving conditions from October to March. It’s important to prepare yourself – and your car – for winter driving.
Today, LeasePlan UK has prepared a guide to safer winter driving. Heed the advice and you and your car will have a greater chance of making it through to the spring in one piece.
Chris Black, commercial director at LeasePlan UK, said: “The data published today is a crucial reminder of how important it is to take precautions when driving on the roads this winter. While we can’t always predict the weather, there are a number of safety measures we can take to lessen the chances of an incident occurring.”
Before you set off
According to LeasePlan, there are seven things to check before driving in the winter, especially if you’re travelling a long distance. These can be summarised as follows:
- Battery: The car battery needs to work harder during the winter, so ensure that it is regularly serviced.
- Tyres: Make sure there is at least 2mm tread depth on the tyres. Consider investing in winter tyres, which are effective in cold weather, not just in the snow.
- Cooling system: Add anti-freeze into your cooling system, but remember to use the appropriate strength of formula.
- Wipers and washers: Use high-strength screen wash and replace damaged or faulty wiper blades. Never use the wipers to clear ice from the windscreen.
- Defrosting: Never use boiling water to clear ice from the windscreen. Instead, use an ice scraper and/or a can of de-icer. Remember to clear all areas of glass, including the mirrors and lights.
- Lights: Check that all lights are working, including fog and reversing lights.
- Roof and windows: Clear all snow and ice from the roof and windows before setting off.
Ten 10 tips for safer winter driving
High gear, low revs
Use a higher gear when setting off as this will give you greater control of the vehicle. In slippery conditions, avoid using first gear if possible.
Take your time
When driving in snow, avoid high revs, but don’t drive so slowly that you risk losing momentum. Keep going, as this could be the difference between making it home or getting stuck in the snow. Remember, if you’re stuck, the chances are other drivers will be stuck, so you’re unlikely to receive help.
If you get into a skid in snow or on ice, take your feet off the pedals and steer to safety. Only use the brakes when you’re unable to steer away from trouble.
Triple the braking distance and maintain a sufficient gap between you and the car in front. Any sudden movements – such as erratic steering or braking – are likely to result in the car careering out of control. Use a lower gear than normal and gently apply the brakes.
Keep to the main A-roads and motorways when possible, as these are more likely to have been treated with salt and cleared by a steady flow of traffic. There’s also a greater chance of help arriving should you breakdown or get stuck in a snow drift. Avoid unlit rural roads, as there’s a risk that you or your stranded car could be hit by another vehicle. It’s also worth remembering when you last passed a house or shop, in case you need to find help.
Use dipped headlights in the snow, but remember to turn them off when conditions improve.
Potholes are more likely to appear after freezing temperatures or a flood. It will be difficult to spot them at night, in the snow or when the roads are covered in water, so drive with extra care. Not only can a pothole cause damage to a car’s wheels, suspension or steering, you may also lose control of the vehicle.
In foggy conditions, reduce your speed but don’t slam on the brakes. Keep your distance to the car in front and don’t rely on them to guide you through a dense fog patch. Use dipped headlights and fog lights, but remember to switch them off when conditions improve. It’s also important to remember that LED daytime running lights are unsuitable for driving in fog or at night. If you have automatic lights, make sure they’re on when driving in fog.
Avoid driving directly through the deepest water, which is normally near the kerb. Stick to the centre of the road, but look out for debris and potholes beneath the surface. If in doubt, don’t drive through flood water – seek an alternative route. If you do drive through, take your time, avoid sudden acceleration and test your brakes when you’ve made it through the water.
Be prepared for winter driving
If extreme weather is forecast, it’s worth packing for every eventuality. Should the worst happen, it’ll take longer for the breakdown service or emergency vehicle to reach you, so you could be left in the car or stranded by the road for a prolonged period of time. Before you set off in the snow, pack some warm clothing, blankets and some basic nourishment.
While a winter driving safety pack might seem extreme, you’ll be glad of it should you run into trouble. We’d recommend carrying the following items: high visibility jacket, torch, warning triangle, spare tyre, first aid kit, de-icer, screen wash, jump leads and sunglasses (for low winter sun).
For more hints and tips – including more winter driving information – visit the Motoring Research advice section.