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Our Top Winter Driving Tips

We may have been lulled into a false sense of security by the exceptionally warm November, but the mercury has now plummeted to more normal winter levels, bringing with it the potential for dangerous driving conditions.

Ice, snow and persistent rain are only the most obvious perils to the winter driver; strong winds can catch you unawares, and are particularly hazardous when there are tall lorries or trees about, while winter fog can appear suddenly, resulting in greatly reduced visibility on your morning drive to work. Here are our top tips for staying safe on the road this winter.

Prepping your car

Good winter driving starts by making sure your car is fully equipped for dealing with anything the winter can throw at you. Deicing spray and an ice scraper are the two obvious features of a winter-equipped car, but a shovel, jump leads, torch and high-vis jacket in the back of your car can be incredibly useful should you become stuck in treacherous conditions.

Ensure your windscreen wipers are in excellent condition and your tyres have adequate tread, and make sure your engine coolant and screenwash are topped up.

Stock your car with some emergency provisions in case you do get stuck in snow: include a bottle or two of water, some chocolate bars, and a warm coat and blanket to help you keep warm. Always remember to ensure that your mobile phone is fully charged (take a car charger with you as well), with your emergency breakdown hotline stored in it, and keep a first aid kit in your car at all times.

Timing and observation

Before you set out, plan your route and check the weather forecast; if conditions are likely to be bad, and you can avoid your journey, do so. If the journey is absolutely necessary, try to avoid driving in the small hours, when ice will be fresh and at its worst. Ensure that your whole car is free of snow, including the roof, and that the windows and mirrors are free of mist and condensation for maximum visibility. 

Behind the wheel, sharpening your observation skills will give you valuable extra thinking time for dealing with sudden emergencies such as queuing traffic or fog.

Pay close attention to detail; for example, even when ice has melted in the sun, there may still be lingering patches of it in the shadows of trees and buildings. Your car can give you extra information; for example, the warning light that comes on when the temperatures drops below 5 degrees indicates that the roads may become slippery.

Adjusting your driving technique

In winter conditions, you need to ensure that your driving is as smooth as possible, with no sudden braking or acceleration. Also bear in mind the following points:

Top Tips:

  • Stopping distances are greatly increased if roads are wet or slippery, so you may need to brake earlier than you would normally. It goes without saying that such conditions also necessitate driving more slowly than usual.
  • Give other vehicles, especially lorries, a much wider berth than you would usually. Don’t attempt to overtake in icy conditions.
  • If driving on icy or snowy roads, remain in the highest gear you can — it reduces wheelspin. You can even pull away in second gear, releasing the clutch gradually with smooth acceleration.
  • If you skid, avoid over-correcting. Keep your hands firmly on the steering wheel and your foot off the accelerator, and steer gently into the direction of the skid.

If the worst should happen

If you are involved in an accident in freezing winter conditions, or you simply become stranded, your careful preparation will come into its own. If you are unable to dig yourself out of the snow with your shovel, remain with your car, but switch the engine off to avoid running out of fuel.

Call the emergency services or your breakdown cover provider and sit tight until they arrive. At this point, you will be glad you went to the effort of stocking your car with chocolate...

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