And you had better be prepared…
OK, the UK gets a better time of it in the winter months than Westeros, but it does have its own dangers. However, for the last time, we do not have White Walkers, Giants or Dragons – and it pains me greatly to say it.
December has descended and, whether you’re a Reindeer Herder from Lapland or a Costa Rican sun-seeker, the slippery season has come to remind you that driving is not a fool’s game.
Winter brings with it reduced temperatures and increased moisture. This moisture usually (to the horror and delight of all Britons – yes, even you!) appears as rain, but also as snow, hail, sleet or the dreaded slushy/mud hybrid.
All of these atmospheric mood swings can potentially ruin your day, your week, your month or even your year*! *Joking aside, sometimes much worse.
Therefore, with the change in conditions, you will need to adapt your driving style and journey planning, be realistic with your vehicle’s safe capabilities and take a few extra things into consideration.
Here are our top tips for winter weather driving:
CHECK THE WEATHER
Some of us do this routinely throughout the year, but it really does pay dividends at this time of year. Particularly with all of the social engagements we are encouraged and expected to attend, in the lead-up to the festivities, planning your journey accordingly is a must.
Heavy rain, fog/mist, snow and icy mornings will all impact your journey. Your journey time will be longer because you will need to drive slower. Traffic will be more backed up and you simply won’t have the visibility and suitable safe driving conditions that you get in the warmer months.
PREPARE A WINTER CAR KIT
Now, I’m not asking you to become a misunderstood zombie apocalypse “Prepper” (if you haven’t watched a documentary on the topic, I urge you to!). However, always being prepared has helped generations of scouts, so why not adopt that theology for this period.
Create a pack of items, clothing and equipment that will be useful should you get stuck or breakdown anywhere.
Ideally, if the weather starts to resemble The Day After Tomorrow, then don’t go out. Cancel your plans, put your feet up, watch an old movie and have a hot chocolate. However, if you absolutely have to venture out, then consider taking these things with you:
A lot of new vehicles will come with some of these already on-board, but make sure to double check and add anything that you might need, should you come to a halt and are stranded in a snowstorm.
CHECK YOUR VEHICLE
This is so often overlooked by motorists, but check your car! Make sure it’s optimised for travelling and all the consumables are at the levels they should be.
Easy things to make sure of would be:
Is the tread at least 1.6mm? Good. Is it at least 3mm? No? Maybe look at getting hold of some winter tyres, especially if you live in a rural setting and don’t drive a tailor-made off-road vehicle.
Although your eyes will be intermittently glued to the gauge throughout the year, it is especially important to make sure you have more than enough fuel to cover your journey in the winter months. Running out of fuel can be a serious issue in remote/unfamiliar areas.
Be very mindful too that your vehicle’s consumption will generally increase in the cold; the engine has to work harder to get you moving and power the mod cons that thaw you out on your morning commute. Imagine going for a 10 mile run in the snow or rain, whilst blowing up balloons, and think how hungry you would be afterwards.
The ironically rare notion of ‘common sense’ would dictate that you make sure you can actually see out of the car, before driving off in it. But too often, the ticking of the clock drives us into a frenzy that entices us to forget this potentially fatal safety issue.
Before driving off, make sure that the ENTIRE windscreen is free of snow, ice and condensation. Don’t forget ALL of the windows and wing mirrors too, they all play their part in giving you vital information about your surroundings and other road users.
Grab a friend to check that your headlights (both dimmed & full-beam), taillights, brake lights, reverse lights, fog lights, Christmas lights, highlights and night lights are all working properly (don’t fret about the last 3). The days are shorter now that the clocks have fallen backwards, which means that most of us will do more night driving than we are usually used to. So make sure that your car can illuminate your path better than a red nose can.
Whether it’s direct with a nationwide company, an added feature on your bank account or a courtesy service from the manufacturer of a dealership fresh vehicle, breakdown cover can be a saving grace when you’re cold, hungry, fed up and going nowhere.
You can also consider getting a GPS or Sat Nav unit, although most new higher spec cars have them built-in. This would provide extra assistance in being able to tell you and the breakdown service where you are exactly, shortening the time it would take the recovery vehicle to get to you (providing you can turn it on).
ADAPT YOUR DRIVING STYLE
Like a Snow Leopard in the Sahara, you’ll need to adapt to your surroundings. Rain, snow and ice can all cause your stopping distances to be drastically increased, in some situations by a factor of 10x. So… SLOW. DOWN. Change your style – be more gradual with your pedal control and steering, in order to find the most grip. Going slower will also give you more time to react to the unfamiliar terrain; you can spot hazards more easily and react accordingly.
Better still, put your wellies and winter knits on and ask your friends if they want to build a snowman!