Winter Driving – Stay Safe

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As many of us are in the grip of our first cold snap, let’s take a look at the best advice out there for winter motoring, particularly when a really bad bout of snow and ice hits us.

The British are notorious for grinding to a halt when the winter weather gets unusually bad, but it isn’t really our fault. We are the victims of a set of circumstances driven by our location, and finances.

Snow?! In the UK?!

Our little group of islands known as The British Isles, is as far north as Canada and should see similar winter weather. A few feet of snow and minus ten is nothing to our Canadian friends, they are used to it, because it happens every year and they are geared up to manage it. So why don’t we get the same weather? The World’s oceans aren’t just massive bodies of water sloshing around. They are criss-crossed by a network of currents, one of which is the Gulf Stream.

Warm water from the Gulf of Mexico flows in a north easterly direction across the Atlantic Ocean and the first dry land it hits is, yes you guessed it, the British Isles. This means, our weather is much milder, with higher average temperatures and less snow and ice. Just as the Canadians are geared up for the nasty stuff, we are not.

So, what about the finance bit? Well, our local councils have a limited budget for looking after us and our roads. The road clearing equipment and man power they invest in, is quite adequate for our usual winter weather but when things do turn nasty, the system gets overloaded, and we grind to a halt. There just isn’t enough money available to have equipment standing around waiting for that once in a decade deluge.

Now that we have made ourselves feel better that we aren’t a bunch of softies, just victims of circumstances, let’s look at what we can do to ease the pain. Our Met Office is one of the best in the World, and over the past few decades their weather prediction has become wonderfully accurate. Their five-day forecast is pretty damn good, and one day out is virtually spot on.

This coupled with our easy access to the internet, gives us the information we need before committing to travelling in bad weather. We have all heard the weather presenter tell us to “only travel if it is absolutely necessary”, and we really should take that advice. If you check the forecast and it looks pretty nasty, put off the trip to visit Auntie Mable until another day. She might be a bit miffed, but at least you will stay safe and potentially, ease the pressure on the emergency services and local authorities.

Winter driving

Be Prepared

If you really must travel in bad weather, be prepared. That good old boy scout’s motto is some of the best advice anyone can follow in a myriad of circumstances, but it is particularly appropriate for travelling in bad weather. With all the bells, whistles and creature comforts in modern vehicles, it is all too easy to fall into a false sense of security as far as clothing is concerned. Whack up the heating to 24 and you can drive around in shorts and a tee shirt whatever the weather outside. Break down somewhere remote, at night and your warm little bubble gets extremely cold very quickly. By all means drive in shorts and a tee shirt if you really want to, but make sure you have lots of extra layers, a good waterproof coat and stout boots in the, well, boot. (I could digress at this point as to why we call it that, but that’s for another blog.)

A waterproof torch, some food, plenty of water and a flask of hot coffee may sound a bit over the top but find yourself stuck in the middle of nowhere, and you’ll be so glad you packed them. It may be obvious advice but always plug in your mobile phone, so you have a full charge in the event of a breakdown. These devices are little miracles and can be priceless in such circumstances. Not only can you get in touch with the emergency services, but you can work out your exact location and let family and friends know you are OK.

If you are unlucky enough to break down or slither into a ditch in awful winter weather, under no circumstances should you try to walk to safety. You aren’t likely to know where it is and could be heading in completely the wrong direction. It might get cold in your car, but it is some protection from the weather and emergency services have a far better chance of finding you than if you are stumbling around in the snow.

On the subject of slithering, the vast majority of us don’t have skid pan experience so there are a few things to remember that may just keep you on the road. When the roads are slippery, give yourself a much greater distance between yourself and the next vehicle, and begin breaking much sooner for that next give way sign or bend in the road. Brake, steer and accelerate far more gently to avoid skidding. If you do find yourself in a skid, the natural reaction is to brake harder. This of course will have no effect if the wheels have lost traction and will in fact, render your steering useless too. Once your front wheels lock, you are heading in the same direction irrespective of where you turn your steering wheel. Tough as it is, you must go against your instincts and release the brake. This will give you a certain amount of steering and a bit of acceleration helps on front wheel drive cars too. Unfortunately, not so on rear wheel drive cars.

Now we don’t condone “boy racing” around empty car parks, but if there is a bit of snow around and you can find an empty space, some very slow controlled skidding will help you get a feeling of how your particular vehicle will respond, and might just give you the chance to get out of a skid before leaving the road or hitting something.

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What to do…

So, if we are unlucky enough to get some really bad weather this winter, our advice to you is;

  • Check the forecast
  • Only travel if you really have to
  • Be prepared for the worst
  • Drive carefully
  • If the worst happens, don’t wander off

Happy motoring and stay safe!

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