The warm start to winter will inevitably give way to colder conditions, and when it does fleet managers should remind their drivers of the dos and don’ts of winter driving. Here are our winter driving tips as a reminder of the added perils drivers face on the road at this time of year.
- Regularly inspect your vehicle, including tyres, brakes, lights, anti-freeze and windscreen washer fluid. Clean your screen inside and out, and check thoroughly for scratches, chips and abrasions.
- Pay special attention to your windscreen wipers which are normally only effective for around two years. New blades clean the screen far more efficiently.
- Check tyres for condition, tread depth and pressure. If the tread depth is getting low, consider replacing them now before the onset of winter. Some companies may have a winter tyre policy in place.
- Reduce your speed, stay further back from the vehicle in front, drive defensively and allow yourself and others around you more time to react. Your vehicle will take much longer to stop on a wet surface, particularly if covered with early morning frost or ice.
- Slow earlier for junctions, intersections, roundabouts and traffic lights, so you don’t have to brake or corner so hard. Adapt your driving speed to visibility.
- At sunset or sunrise beware of dazzle from low sun. If driving into the sun, be aware that drivers behind may be dazzled and may not see you if you stop. If the sun is low behind you, be aware that oncoming drivers may be dazzled.
- Use dimmed or dipped headlights as soon as you notice a reduction in visibility. If vehicles approaching in the opposite lane have their lights on, it probably means that you should too, as visibility ahead is poor.
- Only use fog-lights in extreme conditions, when the vehicles in front become difficult to see, for example, and always remember to switch them off when conditions improve.
- If your vehicle is not equipped with ABS, should the wheels lock, release the brake briefly so that you can steer. With ABS you can ‘stomp and steer’ – keep your foot on the brake and steer.
- Take regular breaks, even if you’re in a hurry. It will help you concentrate better, especially when doing long hauls in icy or foggy conditions.
This time of year also throws up road conditions that you may not encounter at other times, and they may require rather different driving techniques.
When roads are icy or slushy
- It can take ten times longer to stop in icy conditions than on a dry road. Drive slowly, allowing extra room to slow down and stop.
- Use the highest gear possible to avoid wheel spin.
- Manoeuvre gently, avoiding harsh braking and acceleration.
- To brake on ice or snow without locking your wheels, get into a low gear earlier than normal, allow your speed to fall and use the brake pedal gently.
- If you start to skid, ease off the accelerator but do not brake suddenly.
Watch out for fog
- Watch out for fog – it drifts rapidly and is often patchy.
- In foggy conditions, drive very slowly using dipped headlights.
- Use fog-lights if visibility is seriously reduced, but remember to switch them off when visibility improves.
- Don’t hang on to the tail-lights of the vehicle in front. This gives you a false sense of security and means you may be driving too close.
- Don’t speed up suddenly, even if it seems to be clearing. You can suddenly find yourself back in thick fog.
- Dazzle from winter sun can be dangerous. Keep a pair of sunglasses handy.
In wet weather, stopping distances will be at least double those required for stopping on dry roads. In wet weather:
- You should keep well back from the vehicle in front. This will increase your ability to see and plan ahead.
- If steering becomes unresponsive, it probably means the water is preventing the tyres from gripping the road. Ease off the accelerator and slow down gradually.
- The rain and spray from vehicles may make it difficult to see and be seen.
- Don’t attempt to cross if the water appears too deep.
- Drive slowly in first gear but keep the engine speed high by slipping the clutch – this will stop you from stalling.
- Avoid the deepest water, usually near the kerb.
- Remember – test your brakes when you are through the flood before you drive at normal speed.
If you get caught in a snow drift
- Don’t leave the vehicle
- Let help come to you
- Keep as warm as possible.
Above all, keep safe at this festive time of year!