Articles

How to overcome your winter driving fears

5 minutes

Darker days and slippery surfaces can make winter driving a little nerve-wracking. Motoring journalist Sue Baker chats to the experts about how to conquer some of the LV= team's winter driving fears.

  • Be realistic about journey times
  • Don't let the fuel tank get too low
  • Increase your distance to suit the conditions

We've enlisted the help of two experts to negotiate a route through the hazards of winter motoring: Peter Rodger, head of driving advice at IAMRoadSmart (@IAMRoadSmart) and former deputy head of driver training at the Metropolitan Police (@metpoliceuk), and Kevin Clinton, head of road safety at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (@RoSPA). Here are their top tips to stay safe on the road this winter. 

'When driving in winter, it's especially important to be able to stop within the distance you can see,' says Peter. 'Keep a look out for eyes: animals' eyes reflect back at you, so be alert for shiny spots that may be the first sign of an animal ahead.

'Watch out for deer in the countryside and even near small towns. Muntjac are a common hazard; they're about the same size as a sheep. Try to scan the verges as you drive but keep mainly focused on the road ahead, and moderate your speed.'
 

'Increase the gap between you and the vehicle in front, you may need up to ten times the normal distance for braking,' says Kevin.

Peter urges extra caution on certain road types when the temperature drops.

'Black ice is most likely to occur in dips, on bridges and in shady places,' he says. 'On any bridge you cross over, no matter how small, ice is a possibility. Watch the road surface. Is it shiny? Does it look different – an odd colour? It could be icy.

'If the tyres suddenly go quiet, you could be on ice with very little grip. Be very smooth and back off the speed, but don't brake.'

Kevin recommends reducing glare by keeping both sides of the windscreen clean and grease-free. 

Peter agrees. 'Try not to look directly at the sun if you can avoid it; use the sun visor, and if you're struggling to see clearly, slow down,' he says. 

'Make sure the wipers are in good condition, and be sure to clean them when you clean the windscreen,' says Peter. 'Put good stuff, a proprietary screen washer additive, in the washer bottle to avoid smearing. If the rain is so hard that the wipers aren't clearing it, slow down more. If the wipers start aquaplaning across the windscreen, you're going too fast for the conditions.'

If you do get caught in a sudden rainstorm, be ready to react, says Kevin.

'You will need about twice your normal braking distance. Use windscreen wipers, washers and dipped headlights. Drive smoothly and plan your moves in plenty of time.'

'Street lighting is designed to create a light-coloured background against which anyone or anything stands out as a dark shape,' says Peter. 'Be alert for cyclists, pedestrians and animals showing up as dark silhouettes.'

In winter, cyclists and other road users will be dealing with the same conditions as you. Only overtake if it's absolutely safe to do so, and when you do, give cyclists as much space as you would a car. [1]

'It's a good idea to have your vehicle fully serviced before winter starts and have the anti-freeze tested,' says Kevin. 'Also, check the lights are clean and working, the battery is fully charged, and the tyres are in good condition.'

Peter adds: 'Plan your journey. Use local knowledge to avoid roads that might be problematic, and on a longer trip look for a sheltered route and allow extra time.'

Both our experts recommend carrying an emergency kit of self-help items: tow rope, shovel, boots, warning triangle, de-icing kit, first aid kit, torch, blanket, warm clothes, emergency rations and a fully charged mobile phone.

 

'Avoid the deepest water, which is usually near the kerb,' says Kevin. 'Don't attempt to cross if the water seems too deep, and if you're not sure of the water's depth, find an alternative route.'


He also recommends testing your brakes after driving through flood water – read our '10 tips to help protect your car from flood damage' for more guidance.

Before you go...


Make sure you and your car are prepared, you're confident of the route and aware of the weather conditions. If the weather is bad, don't make the journey unless it's completely necessary.

Wintry conditions can damage your car – grit can corrode your undercarriage, the cold affects car batteries and fluids in the engine could thicken – so make sure your car is covered, and you have the details of a breakdown service in case you need to call someone who can help.

Follow @IAMRoadSmart and @RoSPA for more winter safety guidance. For more motoring tips, articles and comments, follow Sue Baker on Twitter @carscribe.

Sources
1. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/the-highway-code/using-the-road-159-to-203