We rarely need reminding that the UK is an island. And one of the consequences of not being part of a larger continent is we’re frequently buffeted by strong winds. And that means whenever the Met Office issues weather warnings drivers in particular should pay attention.
Car owners frequently think rain and snow present the most challenging driving conditions. But wind is up there with the worst of them. Short of staying at home, lighting the fire and pouring a cuppa, what practical steps can drivers (along with bikers and cyclists) take to stay safe when they need to get from A to B in strong winds?
Bad weather: do you have to drive?
It’s sensible for drivers to ask themselves whether they really need to drive in potentially dangerous weather conditions. Avoiding travel in stormy weather is the safest, if not always the most practical, course of action.
Plan your journey and check for disruption
You wouldn’t go outside in freezing cold weather without a warm coat, so why head into a storm without first checking for disruption? Plan your route and go online to see if there are likely to be road closures or delays.
Driving in strong winds: hold that door!
This is one of the most obvious pieces of advice but it’s easily forgotten. When you’re opening a car door in strong winds, especially from the inside, have a firm grip of the door handle and be prepared for the wind to catch it. High winds can cause serious damage to a door’s hinges. In turn that can give you a real pain in the pocket or purse. Also, try to avoid parking beneath trees or a building’s roof. Falling debris could damage your car or, worse, people.
Get a grip – of the steering wheel
Some drivers find it more relaxing or feel they look cool driving with one hand on the steering wheel. This is never a good idea, and it’s especially silly when faced with strong gusts of wind. Grip the wheel firmly with both hands.
Leave more room on the road
Your car, and other vehicles on the road, are going to get blown around by side winds, says Richard Gladman, IAM RoadSmart’s head of driving and riding standards. Reduce speeds and increase the distance between you and other traffic. The IAM advises to do this according to driving conditions, especially when roads are wet. Also, be wary of high-sided vehicles, motorbikes and cyclists. They are all particularly vulnerable to the effects of the wind.
Can you stop in the distance you can see ahead?
Trees, branches, bits of buildings, the occasional trampoline and localised flooding can all be lurking unseen around a corner. Drivers should slow down before a bend, says Richard Gladman, and ensure they can stop on their own side of the road in the distance they can see.
Expect the unexpected
As drivers pass gaps between trees or buildings, or cross bridges, they should expect greater exposure to side winds. Concentrate and anticipate the effects of wind. And remember: when you switch from a windy section to a sheltered area, the sudden loss of winds can be just as unbalancing to a vehicle.