As drivers, we become used to long, hot summers and, even as the year marches on an extended autumn can lead to continued clear weather and dry roads.
So when winter suddenly does arrive with a vengeance it can take a little time getting used to the renewed, more treacherous conditions. Windscreens become frosty, mornings and evenings are darker sooner and for longer, roads become wetter and more slippery and freezing tyres don’t work as well on sub-zero surfaces.
It’s time then, to slow down and change your driving style to suit the season. Winter brings with it Christmas but that’s where the good cheer ends as it ushers in wintry driving conditions. You have to plan ahead and take longer preparing your car before you even leave your driveway or pull away from the kerbside. And then, once out on the road, it’s even more important for a calm head and considered judgments.
In any weather, driving safely is a complex skill that requires concentration, clear thinking and awareness of the changing situations around you. But when conditions take a turn for the worse, drivers have to make good decisions in more difficult circumstances with less visual information available. This puts more pressure on them which can be extra stress that many struggle to cope with.
Drive to the conditions, not the speed limit
Common sense tells you that when your visibility is reduced by darkness, rain or anything else, you should reduce your speed to make sure you can see what’s coming with enough time to react.
It’s perfectly OK to slow down and allow more room for you and the vehicles around you. So what if you arrive five minutes late? Better that, than having an avoidable accident because you were in too much of a rush and couldn’t stop in time when you needed to.
Instead of rushing to your next appointment or destination, plan ahead and leave yourself extra time to get to your end point – it’s safer this way and less stressful too.
Visibility, braking and steering reduced in the wet
Not only is your visibility affected in wet weather, braking distances are usually longer and your tyres won’t have as much grip to steer. So not only might you spot danger later, but you won’t be able to stop or steer out of harm’s way as quickly as if it was in the summer.
Those three factors all mean that your chances of having an accident at any given speed are much higher in wet weather than in the dry. So slow down and keep a careful eye on the road conditions and traffic.
You must ensure you can see clearly and all-round out of your windscreen, rear screen and side windows. If your screen is misted up or frosted, take a few minutes to clean it properly so that you can see clearly through the entire window. Clearing a small patch directly in front of you is not sufficient to provide a safe level of visibility and it’s not something the police look kindly on either.
Driving in fog
Taking to the road in fog is a particularly unpleasant, and potentially dangerous, experience. It goes without saying that visibility is massively compromised which means you can’t see obstacles ahead of you until much later, and your car also can’t be seen by other road users. Driving in fog is stressful and tiring and should be done slowly and carefully.
Your car is probably equipped with front and rear fog lights so use them as required, alongside your normal headlights. You must not use fog lights unless visibility is seriously reduced as, in clear conditions, they can dazzle other road users and might obscure your brake lights. You should switch them off as soon as visibility improves.
Keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front and be aware that rear lights can appear further away than they really are. Check your mirrors regularly and especially before you slow down – touch your brake pedal early so that the brake lights illuminate. If someone appears too close to you, don’t try to accelerate to get away from them.
At a junction, stop in the correct position and be prepared to wind your window down so that you can listen for approaching traffic as well as look. When you are sure it is safe to emerge, do so positively and don’t dawdle in a position that leaves you sitting in the path of approaching vehicles.