Winter Driving Safety Tips: Driving from A to B with no accidents

Published on 22nd December 2015 in Driving tips

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When the temperature outside is nowhere north of two degrees, winter driving safety becomes a crucial issue for motorists - especially those who don't have snow and ice-defying, all-weather, all-wheel drives. Blizzards and total whiteouts are near-enough guaranteed in Britain, with an expectancy of nationwide travel chaos following even the lightest dusting of snow. This winter, though, is set to be the worst in half-a-century. Forecasters have predicted around four months of heavy snowfall with temperatures plunging to -11C due to the most powerful El Nino on record and changes in air pressure over the Arctic.

With this in mind, we've put together a list of winter driving safety reminders to prepare you for the inevitable dizzying snowstorms. You might also want to check out our winter driving tips article for more information on preparing your car for the cold this winter.

1. Know the basics

Not all motorists have the luxury of a foul-weather capability car that comes into its own when the roads freeze over. When bracing the snow and ice, pull away safely, drive at a greatly reduced speed, and leave longer braking distances. Give more warning than usual to other road users when changing lanes or stopping, and approach corners at a steady speed - in the highest gear possible. Also, familiarise yourself with your car's heating and air-con systems so that all windows remain free from mist, ice and condensation.

2. Brake properly

When faced with snow-covered or icy terrain, drive as smoothly as possible and refrain from any sharp braking or sudden steering movements. If you're sliding down a hill, release the brake pedal completely while you regain steering control - then gently reapply the brakes again. It is also important to remember that unlike snow, ice is often invisible so it takes guesswork - especially black ice. Four-wheel drive vehicles do fare better in slippery conditions, but their brakes are no more effective than a standard car and stopping distances tend to be longer.

3. Have a clear view

Frozen and steamed up windscreen, windows and mirrors seriously impair visibility. Before setting off, be sure that all are completely clear. One of the most vital winter driving safety tips is to test your windscreen wipers are fully operational when you turn on the engine - especially if it’s hailing. Equally essential is to remove any snow or ice from your car roof - if large chunks fly off mid-drive, this poses a serious risk to other road users.

4. Take control in a skid

Whilst front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive cars behave differently in skid situations, the control technique is the same. In all cases, resist the temptation to brake and aim to steer into the skid by guiding in the direction you want the front wheels to go. Not all skids are dangerous and not all result in accidents, but to avoid them completely you must slow down, take extra care when approaching a bend, and be gentle when steering, accelerating and braking.

5. Survive a hailstorm

When hail falls at fast speeds, seek cover. On standard roads pull over and stop the car as soon as it's safe to do so; on motorways pull over onto the hard shoulder or take shelter under a bridge or underpass. If possible, determine which way the wind is blowing so that you can angle your car accordingly. Although windscreens are tough enough to withstand pelting objects, the side and rear windows are not as strong, leaving them more susceptible to breakage. In extreme conditions, be prepared to lie down in your car and cover yourself with a thick blanket.

6. Use your lights correctly

Dangerous weather conditions will reduce visibility, so you will need to ensure that you switch on your lights to be seen from the front and behind. For cars with automatic headlights, remember that sensors rely on ambient light level rather than on vision and visibility, so they're not always 100 per cent accurate. Snow-covered roads can be dazzling, so only use your dipped headlights; the general rule is low beam during the day and full beam at night. Also show courtesy to other road users by not blinding them with your fog lights; these should only be used when it's actually foggy and when visibility is less than 100 metres.

7. Stay calm if you are stuck

There are several fool proof ways to get your car out when it's stuck in the snow, but the first rule is not to spin your tyres - this will only dig your car in deeper. Put your car in the lowest possible gear and slowly move backwards and forwards to help the car gain traction - or get out of your car and try to dig up any snow around the tyres. If both fail, switch on your hazard lights and call for help. If it's safe to do so, stay warm by running the engine, but make sure the exhaust pipe is clear of any obstructions to prevent toxic carbon monoxide gas building up inside the car.

8. Plan your route

In severe wintry weather, it's more important than ever to plan your journey. Take the winter driving safety advice issued by the Met Office's National Severe Weather Warning Service into account, listen to local news and travel bulletins that flag up information on road closures, and only stick to main roads where possible. No motorist wants to be that lone driver travelling down empty country lanes with no mobile signal, nor the first to tackle icy side streets that have not yet been gritted. In most cases, the busy route may not prove to be the quickest, but it is definitely the safest.

9. Pack a winter driving safety kit

It is not being over-cautious to prepare for spin-outs, breakdowns, or being stuck in deep snow. It takes minutes to pack a winter driving safety kit in your car’s boot so that you’re ready for any hazardous conditions Mother Nature throws at you. This should include a windscreen scraper, small shovel, blanket, de-icer, hazard warning triangle, reflectors, torch with spare batteries, candle, matches, non-perishable food and drink, and a pair of wellies. You’ll also need a mobile phone, snow chains or snow socks for tyres, and warm clothes.

10. Don't think you are invincible

Although four-wheel (4WD) and all-wheel drive (AWD) cars can perform better in the snow and ice than two-wheel drives, motorists should not be lulled into a false sense of security. Sure there is the luxury of being able to grip slippery surfaces and handle corners better due to powered wheels, but this doesn't give you the licence to drive at top speed and bring yourself to a sharp stop if need be. Whatever car you drive in the winter, there are risks attached when bracing the elements. If you're forced to drive anywhere, then our biggest winter driving safety tip is to do it very slowly. If not, simply do not drive.

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