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Driving Safely in Winter Weather Conditions

Posted on: 18/11/2015

Driving safely and carefully is important at any time of year, but during winter, it's absolutely crucial. When the winter months arrive, they bring with them extreme weather conditions that make driving a challenge for even the most experienced drivers, so it's important that everyone takes the time to educate themselves about safe winter driving to keep themselves, and other road users, out of danger.

It's not just driving in snow and ice that can be hazardous; heavy rain and fog, high winds, and low winter sunshine can all pose risks to drivers. 2013 statistics from the Department for Transport showed that there were 191 reported accidents during snowy or icy conditions that year, and a massive 1,552 when the roads were wet or flooded, so it's not just freezing conditions where you must take extra care.

At LK Performance we care about the safety of everyone on the road, so as part of our Winter Driving series here are our tips for driving in extreme winter weather conditions. And to ensure you're fully prepared for driving this season, take a look at our article on getting your car ready for winter.

Driving safely in snow and ice

When the roads are thick with snow or ice (or both), you should only make journeys in your car that are absolutely essential. However, we understand that it's not always that easy, so if you must drive in snowy or icy conditions then you should know how to do so safely, and consider fitting winter tyres. In our tips below, we'll explain how to drive in snow and on ice, including how to stop skidding.

Tips for driving in snow and ice

  • If you will be doing a lot of driving this winter, you may wish to fit winter tyres from LK Performance to your vehicle which can help to improve stopping distances by up to 10% in the rain, and as much as 20% in snow.
  • Before you set off:
    • make sure that your planned route is clear, and check the weather forecast so you do not encounter further snowfall or extreme weather along the way.
    • clear all snow from your vehicle, particularly the windows, lights and licence plates but not forgetting the car roof. This is because snow can slide down onto your windows when driving and obscure your view.
    • thoroughly demist the inside of your windows.
  • During your journey, drive carefully even on treated roads, and keep an even greater distance back from vehicles in front of you as stopping distances can be up to 10x greater in snowy or icy conditions than when the roads are dry.
  • For safe driving on ice and snow-covered roads, drive at a slow speed in the highest gear possible and use gentle acceleration and braking – never stamp on the brakes as this can cause skidding. A higher gear helps the tyres to grip, particularly when moving your car off on packed ice.
  • Drive particularly slowly around bends, as this is where you're most likely to lose control.
  • If your vehicle does start to skid, steer into the direction of the skid – for example if you feel the back of your car skidding to the left, steer to the left.
  • When driving on untreated roads, be careful when driving in compressed snow left by other vehicles as this may be icier than fresh snow.

Driving in heavy rain, floods and hailstorms

As we can see from the Department for Transport statistics from 2013, wet or flooded roads are the worst culprits for motorway accidents, yet it's likely that many people don't take the same amount of care when driving in wet conditions as they would in the ice and snow. Wet roads can cause aquaplaning (or hydroplaning), which is when a layer of water builds between the road and a vehicle's tyres, causing the tyres to lose traction which can lead to accidents.

In our tips on how to drive in rain and wet conditions below, including driving in hailstorms, we'll explain what to do if your care aquaplanes and other important tips for staying safe when driving in rain.

Tips for driving in rain, floods, and hail

  • Leave twice the usual distance between you and the driver in front, as typical stopping distances are at least doubled in wet conditions. This will also help you to avoid spray from vehicles in front of you that can further obscure your vision.
  • If your vehicle aquaplanes, ease off the accelerator and do not brake – instead you should gradually slow down until the tyres find grip again. You will know that you are aquaplaning if your steering suddenly feels very light when driving through standing water; it usually happens when you are driving too fast for the conditions, so reduce your speed.
  • Driving through a flooded road should only be attempted if you know the depth of the water (and it is standing – fast-flowing water can sweep you away), but if you must do so, drive slowly and steadily so as not to create a wave, and keep a safe distance from any vehicles in front. Test your brakes once you have left the water.
  • Hailstorms are one of the most dangerous conditions to drive in, for both drivers and their cars, so this should be avoided whenever possible. However when driving in hailstorms cannot be avoided, keep your car aligned so that the hail is hitting the front windscreen as they are specially reinforced to withstand pelting objects. If the hailstorm becomes too severe, pull over under shelter for your vehicle (e.g. an underpass) and stay inside it.

Driving in fog and mist

Fog and mist are not inherently dangerous; what makes them hazardous to drivers is that they severely reduce visibility on the roads. Knowing how to drive in fog and mist will ensure that the roads are safe both for you and other road users – here are our tips below.

Tips for driving in foggy conditions

  • According to the Highway Code, your front and rear fog lights must be used when visibility is less than 100 metres. To give you an idea, this is about the length of a football pitch.
  • Do not use full-beam headlights as these can dazzle other drivers; use dipped headlights only when driving in mist or thick fog.
  • Follow the ‘two-second rule' to ensure you keep a safe distance from the driver in front of you, as poor visibility can make it difficult for you to determine their true distance.
  • If you stop at a junction where visibility is especially poor, wind down your window to listen for oncoming traffic.

Driving in high winds

It can be rather scary to drive in windy weather. High-sided vehicles such as vans and lorries are at most risk when driving in winds, but any vehicle can be affected by strong gusts of wind, especially on open roads that are susceptible to crosswinds or sections of roads where there are openings. Below are our tips for driving safely in high winds, which can impact your vehicle's handling and braking.

Tips for driving in strong winds

  • High winds can get under a car and make it difficult to control, so drive more slowly and keep a firm grip on the steering wheel in case a sudden gust of wind catches you off-guard, particularly when driving on an exposed stretch of road.
  • Take care when overtaking high-sided vehicles as you could be hit by a sudden gust of wind. You should also give them even more room than usual, as well as cyclists, motorcyclists and cars towing caravans, that are more vulnerable in high winds.

Driving in low winter sunshine

Sunshine in wintertime is a welcome break from the gloomy, dark conditions, but as the sun is lower than in summer, and is usually too low to be blocked by your visor, it can dazzle and therefore be dangerous to drivers. Here are some tips for handling the glare of low sunshine and driving safely this winter.

Tips for driving in low sunshine

  • Reduce your speed so that if the glare does become too severe, you can react appropriately.
  • Keep your windscreens clean and free from smears on both sides to reduce the effects of glare.
  • Wear sunglasses to shield your eyes from the strong sunshine when your visor cannot block it out.

What is defensive driving?

You may have previously heard about defensive driving courses, on which you can learn advanced driving skills that help to reduce the dangers associated with driving. On a typical defensive driving course you'll learn how to anticipate and handle a variety of dangerous scenarios that you may encounter when driving, including winter weather conditions but also bad drivers, including those that may be drunk.

If you are particularly nervous about driving in the winter it may be worth considering a defensive driving course to increase your confidence and competence.

Now you've read our tips for winter driving safety, don't forget to read our articles on getting your car ready for winter and winter car maintenance for a complete guide to winter driving!

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