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Winter Driving Tips

If there is one thing we Brits love to talk about, it's the weather. Typified by Oscar Wilde as the "last refuge of the unimaginative", we are rather obsessed by it nonelethess. Our fascination is so marked that 70% of us check the weather forecast at least once a day. And who can blame us? As Crowded House, not even from these shores, once aptly sang "Four Seasons in One Day. Yep - we've all been there.

A typical winter scene in Britain (if there is such a thing these days!)

When it comes to preparing for immediate winter weather, what to do? Conventional weather patterns seem to be a thing of the past, so in the words of Benjamin Disraeli, we need to "prepare for the worst and hope for the best". When it comes to motoring in particular never a truer word has been spoken.

From the Big Freeze of 2009 to the almost balmy mild winter of 2012, we have experienced it all. With so much unpredictability, how do we protect ourselves, especially on the roads? Doing the school drop off, driving to work or to meetings with clients across the country, safety should always be the number one consideration.

For Winter 2014/2015 the approach has to include a bit of everything. Follow our essential guide to ensure you stay safe on the roads this year.

Mild Weather

While mild weather has obvious benefits, it can also produce some hazards too. The sun, due to the tilt of the earth's axis, is lower in winter. This can result in an almost unbearable glare and, according to the AA, causes over 3000 accidents every year, regardless of season.

To protect yourself, always:

  • Keep your windscreen clean – including the inside.
  • If blinded by the sun, slow down immediately. It is tempting to carry on regardless and let the glare pass, but by then you could have veered off course and caused an accident.
  • If driving at sunset (generally around 6pm in winter) think about the effects of glare on you and other motorists. Drivers heading west or through an area where the sun may suddenly appear should expect to travel at a slower speed.

Severe Weather

Most of us love a little bit of snow, yet too much combined with plummeting temperatures can produce hazardous driving conditions. Even if the white stuff stays away this year, rain or even high winds may cause road chaos. Here's how to avoid all of that:

Snow and Ice

  • If you encounter a skid, steer gently into it – often easier said than done if you are feeling stressed. If the rear of the car is sliding to the right, steer to the right and vice versa. Do not take your hands off the steering wheel or stamp your foot on the brakes.
  • If the road has not been gritted, do not be tempted to drive in the wheeltracks left by other vehicles. Compressed snow is likely to be more icy than fresh snow. Brakes, steering, accelerator and even gear changing should be operated smoothly, slowly and with care.
  • Remember to accelerate gently, always use low revs and change up to a higher gear as soon as you can. Depending on the depth of snow you may need to move off in second gear as this will help reduce wheel slip.
  • Keep speed down and allow more time to stop if road conditions dictate

Rain & Floods

  • Use dipped headlights so that other drivers can see you more clearly. Never use rear fog lights.
  • Reduce your speed and leave more space between you and the car in front. This will facilitate greater stopping distances.
  • Do not drive too fast through standing water. This could result in tyres losing contact with the road. If your steering suddenly feels light you could be aquaplaning. If this happens, ease off the accelerator, do not brake and allow your speed to reduce until you gain full control of the steering once more.
  • Do not attempt to drive through water if you are unsure of the depth – use the edge of the kerb as an indication.
  • If you do go through water, aim to drive on the highest section of the road.
  • Always remember to test your brakes after leaving flood water.
  • If your engine does cut out after driving through deep water, do not restart the engine as damage may have occurred – instead call for professional assistance.

High Winds

  • Drive slowly enough to cope with the unexpected gusts – high winds can get under a car and affect its handling and braking markedly.
  • Be aware what is happening to other vehicles. This could give you a pre-warning, eg if they are blown off course.
  • Give others around you - cyclists, motorcyclists, lorries and buses - more room than normal. They can get blown around easily by side winds. Motorcyclists especially should avoid travelling in high winds as high cross winds can impact on the handling of the motorcycle.

For longer journeys in particular, consider organising and packing a safety kit in your car. Remember to include:

  • Ice scraper and de-icer
  • Torch with batteries - or even a wind-up torch
  • Warm clothes and blankets – enough for you and any passengers
  • Boots (waterproof)
  • Up to date first aid kit
  • Jump start leads
  • Food and a warm drink in a thermos
  • Shovel
  • Sunglasses - the glare of the snow can be blinding
  • Mobile phone charger

And for your car:

  • Snow socks or chains

Always remember the weather can change suddenly so there is no such thing as being over-prepared. Follow our tips and be safe this winter. Please also share any of your own advice and experience – you could help save a life.

By Tracey McBain