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Hitting the road in winter

 Published 19th November 2021
Driver Guides  General Guides 

The clocks have changed, and winter is nearly upon us as the frosty mornings (and evenings) begin to make their presence known. It's that time of year to make sure you're prepared for driving in less than perfect conditions.

Over a quarter of us spend between one and two hours driving every day and as the weather slowly worsens the delays are likely to follow suit. That means it's crucial drivers are ready as the temperatures fall and the days become shorter, in order to minimise risks.

And it turns out a lot of drivers may not be as winter-ready as they think.

In fact, according to a recent OnePoll survey commissioned by Nissan , 37% of UK drivers do not feel prepared for winter driving this year and almost a third (32%) say they do not understand or use their cars' additional safety features for winter driving.

With the shorter days and the dreary winter weather, drivers will find themselves spending more time behind the wheel in the dark, the cold, the wet and the slippery. For more than half of UK motorists these challenges are already causing concern as 61% admit to being nervous to drive in winter and 46% wish they had been taught to properly drive in adverse weather.

It turns out that the majority of drivers are not taking the right precautions either, especially in precarious weather situations.

Heavy snow or rain can reduce visibility, even in daylight, yet less than half (49%) of UK drivers feel completely confident about how to adjust their headlights for road conditions, such as turning on side lights for dusk, or full beams when dark. More than half (52%) do not wait until the windscreen is fully demisted before starting their journey, potentially putting themselves and others road users at risk.

Even when we can see clearly, 68% of UK drivers don't feel confident about how to bring a skid to a stop on icy roads, and a hefty 73% aren't sure about what tyres to use when it's snowing, or the correct stopping distance in wet weather .

In snowy or rainy weather, braking distances increase, so speed should be adjusted. Despite this blindingly obvious fact, two thirds of drivers don't check their brakes for driving in winter, and 37% don't adjust their speed to drive more slowly in the winter. This combined with a lack of awareness on how to adjust stopping distance in icy conditions is cause for concern, as 46% of UK drivers think the stopping distance is five times further than normal or less, as opposed to the recommended 10n times normal stopping distance.

Despite the fact this survey makes UK drivers look a bit reckless and ill-prepared, we all know that's not really the case. The guidelines for driving around in winter aren't that complicated, and the vast majority of it is just basic common sense.

Ten tips for winter driving

1. Always take a fully charged mobile phone with you and ensure you have a working in-car charger in case of emergency. It's bad enough if you get stuck, not being able to call for assistance is far worse.

2. If your car is frosted over make sure you completely de-ice your windows, lights, and mirrors before setting off. Trying to drive while peering through the tiny square you could be bothered to clear isn't just ridiculous, it's illegal.

3. Don't use warm or hot water to clear your windows of ice. As tempting as it may be to go for the quick fix it won't seem like such a good idea if your windscreen cracks.

4. Carry a winter car kit with you so you're always prepared. It might seem a bit extreme given that our winters are generally milder than some of our neighbours, but simple things like a torch, a blanket, ice-scraper, road atlas, warm clothes and de-icer are usually lying around the car anyway and don't take up much room.

5. Bad weather can bring unexpected delays with it so make sure you have enough fuel or electric range to get you where you need to be. If you get stuck in traffic or hemmed in by freak weather it's much better to have a full tank or charge so you can keep yourself warm for longer.

6. A healthy battery is essential for starting petrol or diesel cars in cold weather. If you're thinking of switching to an electric vehicle or PHEV, don't let outdated myths around electric cars in winter put you off. All cars require electricity to work and all of them need properly charged and maintained batteries or you won't be going anywhere.

7. If you're approaching a snow-covered hill, drop well back or wait until it's clear of traffic so you won't have to stop part way up. It's a lot easier to reach the top safely if you can keep a constant speed rather than constantly changing gear or having to stop and then try a hill start on a ski slope.

8. Check your tyre pressure and tyre tread depth to make sure it meets the minimum legal requirement. In the winter it's advised to check your tyre pressure every two weeks. In slippery conditions it's your tyres that are going to keep you on the road so make sure they're up to the job.

9. If you lose grip on a slippery surface, take your foot off the accelerator, and avoid braking or steering too sharply to avoid losing further control of the vehicle. Give the tyres a chance to find some grip before you ask them to do anything else.

10. Stopping distances are increased by up to 10 times in poor conditions, so hang back to give yourself more time to react and stop. Your reaction time may not change but bad weather can make it more difficult to spot hazards giving you less time to avoid them. Regardless of your reaction time, it still doesn't alter the fact that it takes longer to bring your car to a stop safely in wet or slippery conditions.

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