Top five winter driving tips
As the weather gets frosty, along with panic-buying milk and wearing twelve layers of clothes, us Brits tend to become a bit rubbish at driving. That's because we're simply not used to it - the slippery, snowy and icy roads that other countries have months of the year to grow accustomed to we only enjoy for a few days at a time.
This can lead to carnage, as inexperienced drivers head out onto the road ill-prepared for the conditions. But it doesn't need to be as difficult as it's made out to be. In fact, follow a few simple rules, and driving in winter can be safe and easy.
That's not to say it should be taken lightly. It's always best to avoid travelling if possible. Remember, even if you're the best winter driver in the world, not everybody else is so accomplished - and you can't do anything about somebody else crashing into you!
We've compiled some top tips for driving safely and sensibly during the winter months.
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1. Preparation, preparation, preparation
Nobody's suggesting you should travel with full camping gear and two weeks' rations, but there's no harm at all in putting together a winter driving kit to keep in your boot. An ice scraper and de-icer are a must, as are chargers for your mobile phone and sat-nav – or an atlas if you're that way inclined.
You might think it's time to put the sunglasses away, but keep them in the car – low winter sun and glare from snow and ice can seriously impact visibility.
Consider keeping a set of shoes to change into, so you don't have to drive in bulky and slippery winter boots – and if you're heading into serious ice and snow, a few snacks, a flask of hot drink, blankets and a torch are all much appreciated. Finally, should you get stuck, a snow shovel and rug to place under the tyres for extra grip could be lifesavers.
2. Slow it down
Ice and snow reduce traction, which impacts everything you do in the car. Therefore, all braking, accelerating and cornering should be done slowly, carefully and gently to avoid sliding or locking the wheels.
Pulling away in second gear – or locking your automatic car in winter mode – will help prevent wheelspin when setting off, while you should always slow down using engine braking until the last possible moment.
If you get yourself stuck, the key is not to spin your wheels – all that does is dig your car further into the rut it's trapped in. Instead, sprinkle salt or gravel in front of the wheels or use a rug or folding snow tracks.
3. Visibility is key
Make sure all your car's bulbs are working before you set off, as seeing and being seen are really important in inclement weather. It's worth keeping a spare set of bulbs just in case.
It's a legal requirement to clear your car of heavy snow – that means scraping your whole windscreen, clearing number plates and headlights and shovelling deeper drifts off the roof or bonnet if they've settled overnight.
Foglights can be used if visibility is reduced but remember to turn them off in traffic or when fog clears, as they can dazzle other drivers and make your brake lights less effective.
4. Take care of your battery
Car batteries are less efficient in cold weather, which isn't great as this is when we demand the most from them – lights, wipers, heating and air-conditioning all drain the battery and should be turned off when you don't need them.
Batteries need a good long drive to charge up, so if you do lots of short journeys, you may need to hook your car up to a main charger if you don't want the battery to go flat.
If the worst happens and your car refuses to start, don't keep trying – it simply flattens the battery further and won't help matters. You'll need to jump start it using another car or call out your breakdown patrol.
5. If in doubt – don't drive!
If you're not confident, the safest thing to do is not to drive at all. Think about whether your journey is really necessary, and if it's not, consider just staying home.
If you do really need to get out and aren't sure you'll be safe driving in the conditions, try a friend or family member who knows what they're doing. Also remember false confidence is worse than no confidence at all – simply having a car with four-wheel drive does not make you an arctic rally driver!