Tips for safer winter driving
By Bob Hume, 07th December 2012
I saw the first small flurries of snow last night on my way home from work and it threatened to settle for hours after. There has been black ice on the nearest A road to me for two mornings in a row and a minor accident on Tuesday morning.
However, I live in the back end of beyond and 800 feet above sea level in East Antrim in a place known locally as Snowy Glen, so don't panic too much - we're prone to freak weather conditions.
It did prompt me to write another advisory piece on winter driving though.
I've been convinced for many years that there has been too much emphasis placed on what to do in the event of losing control of your car, when motorists should be thinking about not losing control in the first place.
I never want to state the blatantly obvious but this is one of those occasions when it's called for:
Preparing for journeys by planning them in advance will reduce the odds of an accident. Check the weather forecasts and leave more time for your trip.
Vehicle checks are mundane but important: Check antifreeze and windscreen washer levels. Make sure your tyre pressures are correct. If ice or snow is forecast, pull your windscreen wipers away from the windscreen/rear window to prevent the rubber freezing to the glass and make sure they are in the 'off' position before leaving the car overnight. Turning the key in the morning and watching frozen wiper blades tear themselves to bits can be pretty annoying, trust me.
Set your alarm clock earlier: make sure you allow enough time to clear your car completely before your journey: it is an offence to drive with frosted/uncleared windows. DO NOT leave your car unattended with the engine running. Not only is this illegal on a public highway but it could also invalidate your insurance if your car were to be stolen. You should also clear snow from the roof and bonnet to prevent it slipping during braking, subsequently endangering other road users.
Stay well back from other vehicles that have not been cleared, snow and ice can fly off at higher speeds and can be potentially lethal.
Drive in a higher gear than you may normally do; for example, 3rd gear instead of 2nd gear. This will reduce the risk of the driving wheels slipping.
Plan to slow or stop in good time; it can take ten times longer to stop in wintry conditions, so if you think you‘ve left enough space, leave a bit more. Ease off the accelerator and allow the car to stop under its own steam making sure any gear changers are smooth. Use your brakes sparingly and gently; try to avoid braking on bends or descents, brake when you can and not when you have to.
Pay attention to road surfaces, particularly on bridges and flyovers: the cold air that passes under them often causes the surface to freeze. Be aware of sheltered areas too; if the sun is blocked out you may well be about to drive on black ice.
Road markings may be less visible at junctions due to compacted snow or salt and grit. Do not expect other road users to know where to stop. Look for gaps in buildings to identify junctions.
Plan your rest breaks along the way. Make sure you keep in touch with colleagues, friends and relatives to inform them of your progress and intended arrival time. Be realistic about how long it may take and avoid driving at night if at all possible.
Above all plan to keep warm by making up flasks of hot drinks, taking blankets and warm and waterproof clothing. You may even need sun glasses because of the glaring or low winter sun.
Finally, consider investing in a shovel and set of snow chains or a new invention: snow socks. Shovels are cheap and chains will help you to drive in very deep snow and are usually under £100. I've just bought a set of snow socks that cost me just £25 from a Belfast dealership. I haven't had a chance to test them yet but I'm told that they work and take 5 minutes to fit.
As I mentioned earlier: all of the above is simple, obvious advice but how many crashes could be avoided if we all adhered to it?