Expert tips: how to drive safely in winter weather

Driving tips for winter weather

As winter sets in, drivers face a host of hazards from the harsh weather. From dark mornings to icy roads, and smearing windscreens to sudden heavy snowfall, the winter brings added challenges that are just waiting to catch out drivers.

To help ensure everyone gets to their destination safely, Green Flag turned to the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) which promotes better driving, and asked Peter Rodger, its chief examiner, to share his top 10 tips for driving safely in winter weather. 

1. Check your tyres.
Good condition premium brand tyres with deep tread are every driver’s first line of defence. Tyre manufacturers and the IAM recommend a minimum tread depth of 3mm and that tyres’ air pressure is checked every couple of weeks.

2. Consider fitting winter tyres

Some winters can be mild, in which case regular summer tyres are all a driver needs to stay safe on the roads. But did you know that once the temperature falls below about 7C, winter tyres begin to perform better than summer tyres? Essentially, summer tyres feel the cold like you and I, and become stiff and inflexible. Whereas the rubber mix in winter tyres is specifically designed to perform better in cold and freezing conditions.

3. Prepare for your journey

This can mean a lot of things, from maintaining your car by checking the oil, and that the coolant and windscreen washer fluids are all at the correct concentration for winter driving, to ensuring you have a winter safety kit onboard. Drivers should plan their journey by checking live traffic reports online. If you don’t have a 4×4 or winter tyres, a sensible tip is to stick to main roads which should be kept clear of snow.

4. Clear snow or ice from the car

Always clear snow and ice from a car’s windows, roof and bonnet before you start driving.

Volkswagen Golf R driving on snow-covered roads

Before driving, clear snow and ice from windows, lights and the roof and bonnet (Picture © VW)

5. Use a high gear

To help tyres maintain traction, it may help to pull away in second gear, whether using a manual or an automatic gearbox. Automatic gearboxes will have a winter operating mode – look out for a button marked with a ‘W’ symbol – which means the transmission will pull away from a standstill in second gear. When on the move, keep the gear high and engine revs low to prevent tyres from spinning.

6. Match your speed with your vision
Drive according to the conditions, which means you should be able to stop in the distance you can see. On snow-covered roads, increase stopping distances and gaps between vehicles by as much as ten times.

7. Slow down
If you hurry you’ll only be speeding toward danger. So slow down – it will give you more time to react to a hazard.

8. Brake in a straight line
One of the first lessons for a racing driver is to brake in a straight line. When a car turns, centrifugal force tries to pull it outwards, and as it leans over the tyres on the inside of the bend lose some of their grip; slowing suddenly or braking at this point could cause the car to spin. So remember: brake before turns in a straight line.

9. Tackling a hill

When you go up a slippery hill, it’s important to carry an appropriate amount of momentum; drivers that crawl up a hill are frequently the ones who end up stuck and need a push or a tow, as the wheels end up spinning and the car grinds to a halt, so be confident and keep up a sensible speed. Reverse the process when descending a slippery hill, and start very slowly – the last thing drivers want to be doing is trying to slow from speed on a snow-covered hill.

10. Watch the horizon
A simple but effective tip. When a driver keeps their eyes on the horizon and always looks in the direction they want to travel, then should the car slide they will instinctively use the steering to correct the slide.

Peter Rodger IAM chief examiner

Peter Rodger, chief examiner, IAM

 

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