Tips for Bad Weather Driving: Be Prepared

Weather conditions cause driving hazards. Traditionally the most hazardous driving conditions are experienced in the winter as a result of snow, ice and fog. However, rain, creating a risk of aquaplaning, strong winds - particularly if driving a high-sided vehicle - and low sunshine can also catch drivers unaware.

Although many fleets provide advice on driving in different weather conditions - both in relation to before setting off and how to cope once on the move, the following provides a useful checklist on vehicle, journey and driver preparation and driving safely once on the road.

The Highways Agency advises:
• Be informed
• Be prepared
• Be aware
• Be wise.

Vehicle preparation

Breakdowns are more prevalent in the winter months so it is vital that all vehicles are serviced and maintained in accordance with manufacturer schedules. Many dealers, garages and fast-fits offer free winter vehicle checks so take advantage of them. Additionally, if a service/MoT is due then book it promptly.

Check all fluid levels (including fuel and especially windscreen wash to stop it freezing), battery charge, lights, windscreen wipers and brakes are working well, tyre condition, pressure and tread depth (motoring organisations typically recommend 3mm of tread for winter motoring, and no less than 2mm)

Keep an emergency kit in the vehicle including: Ice scraper and de-icer, tow rope, a shovel, boots, a hazard warning triangle, de-icing equipment, first aid kit, a torch, blanket, warm clothes, fully-charged mobile phone and emergency rations (a hot drink and snacks).

Journey preparation

It takes time to properly defrost a vehicle, so give yourself extra preparation time - 10-15 minutes - to prepare the vehicle before starting a journey.

Listen to local/national weather broadcasts and travel bulletins - before and during a journey - and check travel websites.

If the weather is very severe, consider whether a journey is essential or travel at a different time. If an alternative meeting method can be used - conference call or web-based communication system - utilise it. Clients will invariably be suffering the same problems as you in terms of travel, not just to meetings but simply getting to the office/depot. If the journey cannot be avoided, plan it carefully and have a Plan B in case of road closures or diversions.

Driver preparation

Advise someone as to where you are going and what time you hope to arrive, so that they can raise the alarm if necessary.

Most people have very little experience of driving in extreme conditions, such as snow, so take some time to consider how it affects driving. Don’t just drive as normal.

Dazzle from low winter sunlight can be a particular problem when driving. Vision can be improved by wearing sunglasses and ensuring that the windscreen is clean both inside and out and there are no greasy smears.

In winter, the weather can change quickly so always be prepared for bad weather.

On the road

Adapt to weather/road conditions:
• Reduce speed
• Stopping distance can increase significantly so give plenty of space to a vehicle ahead
• Speed limits are the maximum in ideal conditions; in difficult conditions, they can often be too fast
• Drive smoothly avoiding harsh braking, harsh acceleration and sharp steering
• If visibility is poor use dipped headlights.

Remember that even when roads have been treated with salt, ice can still form, particularly on bends or under overhanging trees.

To slow down on ice and snow, lift off the accelerator early to allow the speed to drop sufficiently to select a lower gear. If you need to use the brakes, use very gentle pressure depressing the clutch early to avoid stalling the engine.

Rain reduces vision and greatly doubles the distance required to slow down and stop. Use windscreen wipers, washers and dipped headlights; drive smoothly and plan manoeuvres in plenty of time.

Aquaplaning is caused by driving too fast into surface water, but can be avoided by reducing speed in wet conditions. Having the correct tyre pressure and tyre tread depth will maximise tyres’ ability to maintain their road grip. If aquaplaning happens, ease off the accelerator and brakes until vehicle speed drops sufficiently for the tyres to make contact with the road again.

Fog lights should only be used in the fog, when visibility drops below 100 metres (328 feet), which is roughly the length of a football pitch.

For more information: The Met Office Travel Advice