Staying safe when driving in difficult conditions
Some useful advice to help you drive safely in bad weather or at night.
When you’re driving, you always have to think about the conditions
Even if you’re an experienced driver, making a journey in poor weather, or at night, can be difficult. Thinking ahead and being prepared is important. Taking the right decisions on the road will help you to stay safe.
What you need to know
- Always make sure that your vehicle’s road-ready
- If you have to drive in bad weather, take an emergency kit
- If in doubt about the conditions, think: ‘Do I really need to make this journey?’
- Different weather conditions need to be treated in different ways
- Driving at night means poorer visibility
Make sure your vehicle is ready for the road
No matter what the conditions, it’s always important to make sure your vehicle’s in decent condition. A check or service is a good idea before the winter season starts.
Here are some of the key things you need to think about before going off on any journey. Make sure you:
- Have a full tank of fuel
- Have tyres with good tread and regularly checked tyre pressures
- Take the spare tyre if you have one
- Clean your wiper blades and keep them in good condition
- Regularly top up your windscreen water and add screen wash
- Have windows and lights that are clean and working properly
- Keep your car heater and demister working well
- Have a fully-charged battery
- Carry extra de-icer, an ice scraper and screen wash with you
Do you need to take an emergency kit?
If you have to drive in poor conditions, it’s a good idea to carry a kit in case you get stranded somewhere. Your kit should include:
Mobile phone and car charger
Torch and spare batteries
Set of warm clothes, with a hat, gloves and wellie boots
Blanket or sleeping bag
Hot drink in a flask and some food
Tow rope or bar
Set of tyre snow socks
First aid kit
Driving in bad weather
From snow and ice to high winds and fog, there are many different weather conditions you might have to deal with. They can happen without warning and make driving more difficult.
Always take extra care, adjust your driving to suit the conditions and be aware of your limitations.
Here are some general tips for driving in bad weather:
- Ask yourself if your journey is really necessary
- Make sure you’re fit and able to deal with the road conditions
- Always check local weather forecasts for travel advice before you set off
- If the guidance is not to travel, you need to follow that advice
Dealing with different conditions
Snow and ice
Remember that you may not be able to see as clearly, so you need to drive more slowly. This will also give other drivers more time to see your vehicle.
The chances of skidding are higher and your stopping distance will increase. So reduce your speed smoothly by easing off the accelerator pedal earlier when driving on slippery surfaces.
Avoid sudden actions
Avoid harsh braking and acceleration, or sharp steering when driving on snow or ice. Also, leave more distance between vehicles – at least ten times the normal braking distance.
Use dipped lights
Sidelights alone are often not bright enough for your vehicle to be seen in poor visibility. Remember to keep them clean and clear.
Getting out of snow
If you’re stuck in snow, try to use a higher gear and keep the engine revs low. You might find that rocking the vehicle back and forth can create a path to get free.
Give yourself more time
Remember that your brakes and tyres don’t work as well on wet or flooded roads. When the road’s wet, leave at least double the normal distance between you and the vehicle in front.
Use dipped lights
Sidelights alone are often not bright enough for your vehicle to be seen in heavy rain. Remember to keep them clean and clear.
Check any floods
If the road’s flooded, you should get out and check the depth of the water. The deepest water will be nearer the kerb. If you’re not sure, turn around and take an alternative route. If you do drive through the water, always test your brakes afterwards.
Watch out for aquaplaning
Aquaplaning is driving too fast into surface water. Because the tyre tread can’t clear away enough water, the tyres lose contact with the road and your car will effectively be floating on the water surface.
How to avoid aquaplaning
Reduce your speed in wet conditions. Make sure you’ve got the right tyre pressure and tread depth for maximum grip. If it happens, ease off the accelerator until your speed drops enough for the tyres to make contact with the road again.
In fog, a collision caused by a single vehicle can quickly increase, leading to a severe incident. This is made worse if everyone’s driving too close to each other, meaning there’s no time to react.
It’s best to avoid driving in fog unless your journey’s absolutely necessary. If it is, allow plenty of extra time to reach your destination.
Using your lights
When you can’t see for more than 100 metres, you need to use your headlights. You can also use front or rear fog lights, but remember to switch them off when visibility improves. Don’t ‘hang on’ to the rear lights of the car in front as you’ll be too close to brake safely.
Don’t speed up straight away when visibility improves slightly. In patchy fog you could find yourself ‘driving blind’ again only minutes later. Remember to use your demister and windscreen wipers if they help.
In winter, the angle of the sun in the sky will often be too low for your visor to shade your eyes.
Here are some tips:
- Slow down
- Always keep the inside and outside of your windscreen clean and grease free, to reduce glare
- Wear sunglasses, but remember to take them off whenever the sun goes in
Driving in high winds can be particularly difficult if you’re driving a high-sided vehicle, towing a caravan or large trailer, or riding a motorbike.
Here are some simple tips:
- If the conditions are really bad and you’re not confident, think about delaying your journey
- Keep a strong grip on the steering wheel or handlebars and be ready for sudden gusts
- Especially on more open roads, or when overtaking a large vehicle
- High bridges may be closed in extreme winds, so keep updated with the traffic reports
When you’re riding or driving in high heat, it’s easy to become dehydrated. Always stop regularly and take on water or other rehydration fluids.
Use the air conditioning or put the windows down to make sure your vehicle stays cool. It will also prevent you from feeling drowsy.
On a motorbike it could be an idea to choose lighter motorcycle clothing in warm weather. Just make sure that what you’re wearing is still safe, i.e. not shorts and a T-shirt.
Driving at night
Driving at night is a very different experience to driving during the day. Visibility is much lower, which makes it difficult to judge things like the speed and distance of other vehicles on the road.
Here are some points to keep in mind when you’re driving at night.
Keep your lights clean and check they’re working properly – that includes your hazard lights. Remember, it’s an offence to have faulty lights.
Your wipers and washers are especially important at night. Keep your windscreen clean and wipe your blades with a cloth to remove any dirt. Also, make sure there’s plenty of water in your windscreen water reservoir.
Think about your speed
At night you need to drive at a speed where you can stop safely within the distance that you can see in your headlights. Remember, when you’re overtaking, it can be difficult to judge your speed and distances properly.
It’s easy to feel sleepy while driving at night. If you do, stop and take a break. Always stop in a safe place, get some fresh air, stretch your legs, and drink a caffeinated beverage.
…be tempted to use your fog lights when there’s no fog. They won’t help you see any better and it simply dazzles other drivers.