Like it or not, it’s time to switch to winter driving. It’s all gone a bit cold. And wet. And windy and icy and dark. And horrible.
Winter is officially here and that means driving has just got a bit tricky. If you haven’t seen the effects yet, you will soon – there’ll be more traffic, more accidents and less calm on the roads. And that’s before we even get onto what happens when the snow starts to fall. If you’ve taken out car or Van Hire, you’ll b adjusting to a different vehicle as well as changing conditions, so be extra cautious!
But if you keep a few things in mind, you can avoid the most common winter driving problems that crop up at this time of year.
Winter Driving – Before You Set Off
It sounds simple, but for winter driving, there’s one big thing you need to do before anything else. And that’s get some kip.
You can’t be tired if you’re driving in bad conditions. You need to react quickly to anything that might happen when the road surface is wet or icy, and you have slower reaction times when you’re tired. So get that good night’s sleep.
You need to keep your car in top order, too. Check your tyres are properly inflated, your battery is fully charged and your petrol tank is at least half full (to avoid your lines freezing up and to make sure you don’t get caught short in any wintery jams). Make sure you’ve packed your boot with the essentials, including antifreeze, blankets, gloves, hat, water and food. It doesn’t have to be a three course meal back there, but just something that would keep you going in an emergency.
Keep an eye on your mobile phone battery as well. You don’t need to watch that YouTube video of a dog on a skateboard for the hundredth time – you need to be able to get in touch with people, and for them to get in touch with you, no matter what happens.
And dress for the occasion. Bang on a load of layers and you’ll be able to take them off one at a time once you start warming up.
On the Road
Once you’re driving, it’s all about being sensible.
Look as far ahead of you as you can – don’t just be happy with knowing what the car in front of you is doing. Look beyond them and take in as much as possible at all times, from what’s happening on the road to any pedestrians on the pavement, to what the road signs are saying, to whatever terrain is coming up. Preparation is everything in bad weather, so the more you see and the longer you see it for, the more time you have to assess everything and decide what to do. Sometimes visibility will be poor, so when that happens just reduce your speed and be more cautious, so you have the maximum time to react.
Always try to drive as smoothly as possible. You want to be in complete control of your vehicle with movements that are nice and fluid, so no sudden braking, jerky steering or rally style gear changes. And speaking of braking in bad weather, use your pedal brake when you’re at a standstill instead of your parking brake, because it’s much more effective.
You should actually be using your pedal brake a lot in wintery conditions. When you’re not applying a gentle foot to the gas pedal, you should be gently slowing your speed in anticipation of bad traffic or weather, or a set of lights. And no coasting – always be in gear and always be switched on, with your seatbelt on too.
It Might Be a White Christmas
Driving in bad weather is bad enough, but driving in snow is worse.
You’ve got to be even smarter. Accelerate slower and take even more care on corners. Before you get in your car, check there’s no snow blocking up your exhaust. And let someone know where you’re going, when you should be getting there and the route you’ll be taking – a precaution that might seem OTT, but could be a literal lifesaver.
We should all be driving at a distance of about three or four seconds from the car in front, in regular conditions. But when it gets really bad, especially when it’s snowing, you need to stretch that out to about ten seconds. You need plenty of time to react to whatever might happen, and enough time for your car to play ball in the sludge. Remember – you might be a great driver, but the person in front might not be.
Yet while you should be slowing down as often as possible, you want to avoid coming to a complete stop in the snow. It takes much more to get a stationary can or van going than one that’s slowly rolling, because that tiny bit of momentum can make all the difference. And whatever you do, don’t stop on an upwards hill! Make sure you’ve got some momentum going before you get on the hill, then you can just chug up it at a steady pace. If you come to a dead stop and try to start again, you might end up with your wheels spinning and you’ll find yourself going nowhere fast. Once you’re over the top, take it as slow as you can while you go down the other side.
If the worst case scenario happens and your car breaks down in the snow, don’t panic and go out walking in it. Stay inside and phone for help, and tie some coloured cloth to your antenna so anybody driving by can see you.
Stick the Kettle On
You could say a lot of this is common sense.
But it’s all too easy to switch off. Especially when you’ve been driving for years – every journey can end up feeling like your standard overcast summer’s day jolly. In winter conditions, you have to always be thinking, always be mindful of who’s on the road with you and always be respectful of the elements. Because it’s plain dangerous if you aren’t.
And in most cases, you’re driving because you have to. Because it’s your job or because there’s just no alternative for whatever’s going on. But when you can, when it’s possible, stay at home. Put your feet up, stick the telly on and be happy, knowing that you’re out the cold and in your comfort zone. Which is always the best place to be.
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