UK weather can be unpredictable. Severe weather conditions can arise when least expected and be extremely dangerous if you’re on the road.
Driving is a risky business at the best of times – 5 people die on UK roads every day – so hazards such as darkness, rain, fog, ice, and even low sunshine, only add to the danger. Use this advice to help you stay safe in winter.
Before you set off
- Consider whether your journey is necessary – the best way to stay safe in bad weather is to stay off the roads.
- Check forecasts and traffic news – both local and national.
- Consider your route – bear in mind that some types of road are particularly dangerous in certain conditions. For example, steep country roads are treacherous in icy weather and some roads are more susceptible to flooding and strong side winds than others.
- Check your emergency kit – ensure your vehicle is properly stocked.
- Check tyres – tread depth should be at least 3mm to be safe in wet or icy conditions and tyres should be inflated to the
pressure recommended by the manufacturer.
- Check lights and wipers – ensure they are fully functioning.
- Clean windscreen, windows and mirrors – ensure they are totally clear of snow, ice or steam.
- Plan your journey – try to stick to major routes, give yourself plenty of time and allow for possible hold-ups.
- Inform someone – of your intended route and time of arrival.
- Ensure you’re fit to drive – it’s crucial to ensure that your driving is not impaired by drink, drugs, medicine, stress, tiredness or a distraction like a mobile phone at any time of year, but you especially need to be focused and fit to drive in adverse conditions.
Basic principles for driving in bad weather:
The best way to be safe in extremely bad weather is to avoid driving at all. But bad weather can be unpredictable and it’s common to get caught out while on the road. These basic safe driving principles apply in all adverse conditions:
- Slow right down – if visibility is poor or the road is wet or icy, it will take you longer to react to hazards and your speed should be reduced accordingly.
- Maintain a safe gap behind the vehicle in front – stopping distances are double in the wet and ten times greater in icy weather. The gap between you and the vehicle in front is your braking space in a crisis.
- Look out for vulnerable road users – be aware that people on foot, bicycles, motorbikes and horses are harder to spot in adverse weather and in the dark. Drive as though someone could step out in front of you at any time.
Look out for signs warning of adverse conditions – including fixed signs, such as those warning of exposure to high-winds, and variable message signs on motorways that warn of fog, snow, and which may display temporary slower speed limits.
- Stay in control – avoid harsh braking and acceleration and carry out manoeuvres slowly and with extra care.
- Use lights – put lights on in gloomy weather, when visibility is reduced. Use front and rear fog lights in dense fog
Driving in specific conditions:
It’s wise to have an understanding of how best to handle specific conditions.
Snow, ice and slush
- Make sure the windscreen and back and side windows are thoroughly de-iced on the outside and de-steamed on the inside before setting off – don’t simply clear a ‘porthole’ to look through
- If snow or hail is falling, use wipers to keep the windscreen clear.
- Maintain at least a 10-second gap between you and the vehicle in front. It takes 10 times further to stop in icy conditions than on a dry road
- Use the highest gear possible to avoid wheel spin, but taking care not to let your speed creep up.
- Brake gently to avoid locking the wheels. Get into a low gear earlier than normal and allow the speed of the vehicle to fall gradually.
- Take corners very slowly and steer gently and steadily, rather than with jerky movements, to avoid skidding.
- Never brake if the vehicle skids. Instead, ease off the accelerator and steer slightly into the direction of the skid until you gain control.
Rain and flooding
- Maintain at least a four-second gap between you and the vehicle in front.
- Adjust wiper speed appropriately to keep the windscreen clear.
- When there is water on the road, look out for the steering becoming unresponsive, which can happen if water prevents the tyres from gripping. If this occurs, ease off the accelerator and gradually slow down. If possible, pull over somewhere safe until the rain stops and water drains away.
- Follow the advice about driving in ‘snow, ice and slush’ on gentle steering and braking to avoid skidding.
- Never attempt to cross a flooded road if unsure how deep it is – only cross if you can see the road through the water. Many vehicles will be damaged if you drive through just a few inches of water and some vehicles will float in just two feet. If you need to cross shallow floodwater, only cross when nothing is coming the other way and drive very slowly in first gear with the engine speed high to prevent stalling.
- Test brakes immediately after driving through floodwater by driving slowly over a flat surface and pressing the brakes gently. Warn any passengers first.
- Use dipped headlights or, if visibility is seriously reduced (if you cannot see more than 100 metres/328 feet), use fog lights. Switch off fog lights when visibility improves.
- Never hang on to someone else’s taillights, which can provide a false sense of security and mean you’re not fully focussed on the road.
- Never speed up suddenly if fog seems to have cleared – fog can be patchy and you may suddenly re-enter it.
- Keep a pair of sunglasses (prescription if needed) in the vehicle all year round so they are within easy reach when driving. Wear them in bright sunshine, especially if the sun is low or reflecting off a wet road.
Darker evenings and mornings
- Switch on lights as soon as it starts to get dark.
- In urban areas use dipped beam. Use full beam on other roads at night but dip them when there is someone in front or coming towards you.
- Be aware that pedestrians are harder to spot in the dark and may not be visible until they are very close. In particular, take care when driving near schools and homes, where children may be walking and cycling, and around pubs and clubs at closing time, where drunk pedestrians may be about. These types of road user are very vulnerable as they are both hard to spot in the dark and may act unpredictably. Slow right down to 20mph where they may be children or drunk pedestrians – if you hit someone at this speed they have more than a nine in ten chance of survival, compared with about a 50/50 chance at 30mph.
- Take extra care when passing over bridges or along open stretches of road exposed to strong winds. If your vehicle is being blown about, slow right down and maintain a steady course.
- Keep well back from motorbikes or cars overtaking a high-sided vehicle as they can be affected by turbulence.
Katie Shephard is a Fundraising and Development Director at Brake. Katie has been working at Brake, the road safety charity, for more than 12 years. She predominantly works with companies who are dedicated to road safety and who support Brake to achieve its vision of zero deaths on the road. Katie is passionate about raising awareness about making the roads safer and supporting people affected by road crashes.communities, please visit brake.org.uk or call 01484 559909.