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Precautions for cold weather driving

Published: 12/04/2016

We didn't really expect to be having to say this in spring – but it's still cold and as we are all well aware it can suddenly turn very chilly with the threat of adverse weather ever present.

Cold weather requires drivers of all vehicles to take the most care and to be the best prepared. If conditions deteriorate it is always best to put off driving if possible. If you do have to drive, here is our guidance on how to minimise the risk of having an accident.

Ensure that your vehicle battery is in good condition. Battery problems are the most common cause of winter breakdowns. Regular maintenance/inspection should help prevent this issue:

  • Plan your route so you can stay on major roads as much as possible
  • Listen to weather forecasts and travel bulletins
  • If you have a winter cold or related illness, consider whether you are fit to drive and understand the potential effects of prescribed or over-the-counter medicines
  • Adjust your schedule to allow for much longer travelling times
  • Keep an ice scraper and de–icer in the vehicle so you can clear the windscreen whilst you are out and about
    • Keep a clear view

      When the vehicle is parked overnight when sub zero temperatures are expected, make sure the wipers are switched off in the park position. If the blades are not on park position, they will move on ignition and may be damaged if they are frozen to the windscreen. Ensure that there is windscreen washer fluid in the windscreen wash reservoir to prevent the water freezing so you can clean your windscreen when you need to.

      Get a grip

      Make sure that tyres have at least 3mm of tread and ensure the air pressures are in line with manufacturers recommendations. If you decide to fit winter tyres, their increased silica content prevents them hardening in cold weather and increases grip in poor conditions. It is not often that snow chains are needed but if you do use them, ensure that you are conversant with their use and remove them when you get to a road without a significant covering of snow.

      Be prepared

      It is recommended that you leave yourself more time to prepare before setting off in your vehicle in poor conditions. Useful points to consider include:

      • Ensure that your lights are working, clean and snow free. Keep reflectors clean too
      • Make sure that your windscreen is fully clear of ice and snow
      • Do not start until snow and ice is cleared off all other windows and your mirrors
      • Before you set off, ensure that your windows are demisted
      • To prevent snow sliding down on your windscreen during braking, clear snow off the vehicle roof if you can get safe access

      If the sun shines

      We don’t see so much sun in the winter but when we do, it can be low in the sky and can cause a hazard by dazzling drivers. The sun can be low enough to render your sun visor ineffective so ensure you have sunglasses to hand (prescription sunglasses if you need them). Avoid sunglasses that darken in sunlight, as they will react too slowly. Keeping the inside and outside of your windscreen clean and free of smears will reduce the effect of glare. If you have stubborn smears on the windscreen, try using dissolved dishwasher powder in water or cream glass cleaner with clean kitchen paper. The final point to remember is to simply reduce your speed and turn on your lights so you can be seen.

      In windy weather

      When the winter brings high winds, please remember the following:

      • Cyclists and motorcyclists can be blown off course so leave more space than usual between you and two-wheeled road users
      • Be aware that high-sided vehicles caught in high winds can move suddenly and could lose control
      • Bridges and high buildings can alter wind movements, so be aware of sudden gusts

      Driving in fog

      We all know to use dipped headlights in foggy conditions. However, fog lights should only be used when visibility is reduced to less than 100 metres. Please remember:

      • When it looks like fog is clearing you can suddenly hit another fog bank
      • Wind down your window and turn your radio off so you can hear vehicles approaching
      • Never park on the road in fog. If you do need to stop, use warning lights
      • Make sure you can stop well within the distance you can see to be clear
      • Do not follow the vehicle lights in front too closely; you will limit your stopping distance. If you can see the vehicle behind, they can see you, so your rear fog lights can be turned off to avoid dazzling the driver behind you.

      Emergency kit

      If you need to travel and extreme weather is forecast, pack some emergency equipment. This could include de-icing equipment, hazard warning triangle, boots, torch, warm clothes, blanket, shovel, tow rope, a flask of hot drink and a fully charged mobile phone. It’s clear that we need to adapt the way we drive in winter. Conditions can change quickly and vary widely over short distances. Winter conditions can bring snow, ice, rain, fog and high winds. All these conditions need different driving considerations so no matter what vehicle you drive, you need to be prepared. We often blame bad weather for accidents when usually it is poor preparation and inappropriate driving behaviour that is the real cause.

      Making progress in snow and ice

      You will need stopping distances 10 times greater than usual in icy and snowy conditions. Useful points to consider include:

      • Wear soft, dry shoes so your feet don’t slip off the pedals
      • Pull away in second gear to avoid wheel spin
      • Avoid sudden vehicle movements as these can cause loss of vehicle control
      • If your vehicle skids, take your foot off the accelerator and point the vehicle in the direction you want to go
      • If you have an automatic gearbox, if possible, select ‘2’ in order to avoid first gear
      • When driving up hill, make sure you have enough clear road to drive up the hill without stopping if possible and avoid changing down gears
      • When driving down hill, leave as much room as possible between you and the vehicle in front. Use a low gear and try to avoid using your brakes, allow engine braking (gears) to slow your vehicle. If you do need to use your brakes, go gently and de-clutch if the vehicle skids
      • Brake smoothly and gently and don’t forget to slow down sooner than usual on the straight before you take a corner. Gently accelerate once you have left the bend
      • Keep the vehicle ventilated so the hot air from the heater doesn’t make you drowsy
      • Use dipped headlights if the visibility is poor
      • Be aware of icy patches under bridges and tree-lined sections of road
      • Refrain from overtaking vehicles if the weather deteriorates
      • Remember that when driving on ice, tyres hardly make any noise.

      When it rains

      When driving in the rain, stopping distances need to be twice as great as they would be on dry roads. Points to remember:

      • Use your dipped headlights, drive smoothly, plan ahead and brake gently
      • If your vehicle starts to aquaplane, take your foot off the accelerator and slow down to let the tyres make contact with the road surface
      • When roads get flooded, avoid the deepest water near the curb but if the water appears too deep, find an alternative route. If you do hit standing water, always check your brakes afterwards.

      Snow socks – the inexpensive alternative to winter tyres or traditional snow chains.

      What are they?

      The snow sock is an elasticated cover made to fit around the existing tyres fitted to the driving wheels of a vehicle. The material used to contact the road surface is typically Kevlar, with a hairy, coarse surface that provides a greater level of grip than summer tyres in most snow and ice conditions. Quicker to fit than snow chains, you can fit and remove snow socks single-handed. Moreover, you can now legally use them in place of traditional snow chains, which are mandatory during winter conditions in several European countries, including France, Germany, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic (there is no legal requirement in the UK.). Only speed rated up to 50mph, it is recommended that snow socks are removed when driving on gritted or cleared surfaces otherwise shredding may occur which will render them ineffective.

      Considerations

      If driving conditions are poor enough to warrant the use of snow socks, then you should consider if the journey is necessary.

      Research suggests that on-board technology and ancillary equipment meant to improve control of a vehicle, whilst driving in snowy and/or icy conditions can lead to drivers taking greater risks. Ice and snow covered surfaces can vary in nature and will affect the traction provided by snow sock.

      There are risks associated with fitting the equipment e.g. at the roadside, exposed to passing traffic driving in icy conditions and potential musculoskeletal and hand/finger injuries.

      Conclusion

      Snow socks do provide greater levels of traction in conditions where drivers may have trouble getting their vehicles moving and maintaining control. Nonetheless, we recommend issuing guidelines to drivers of company cars and/or vans, when issued as ancillary equipment. Moreover, the equipment should not facilitate driving recklessly in icy conditions, nor when the conditions pose a significant safety risk. Companies must also bear in mind the risks of fitting the equipment, such activity on a company owned vehicle could be classed as ‘maintenance’ with the associated employee liability risks.

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