16 January 2015

Drive safely this winter

If you love chestnuts roasting on an open fire, making Christmas TV bearable by downing a fair bit of your auntie’s mulled wine and having a snowball fight if the sky does its thing, but hate everything else about winter, you’re not alone. Driving at this time of year can be pretty rubbish, right up until early March in fact. Especially for new, younger drivers, managing in wintry conditions can be a bit scary at times, so here are some tips to help you stay safe.

Fight the duvet blues

We know it’s hard to leap out of bed when you’re snuggled up under the warm duvet or to peel yourself away from your comfy sofa by the fire, but winter driving requires forward planning and preparation. You’ll need to set off earlier than usual to get to work, university or to meet your friends, as road conditions, heavy traffic and weather can all cause delays. Getting stuck in long queues can gobble up your petrol or diesel, so make sure your tank isn’t likely to start gasping any time soon.

Check your car

It’s good practice to check your car over in any weather but particularly in the winter, when you need to make sure your tyres are in good condition and will grip if the weather gets dodgy, that your windscreen washer bottle and anti-freeze are topped up, your battery isn’t on its last legs and your lights all work. It’s just as important for other motorists to see you than for you to see the road ahead, so it’s not a bad idea to drive with your dipped headlights turned on at all times in the winter. Lots of garages offer free winter checks, otherwise you could ask your dad, neighbour or a more experienced friend for help with checking your car.

Avoid the ‘doh!’ factor

So many people, even those who have been driving for decades, leave their ice scrapers and de-icer sprays in the boots of their cars, which is no good if your car doors are frozen solid. Another clanger that seems to happen every winter is when people in a rush boil kettles and pour the water on their windscreens. This isn’t a good idea as it’s highly likely to crack your windscreen, which can cost a fortune to replace. If you’re cunning, you can put a towel, sheet, newspaper, large piece of cardboard or tarpaulin over your windscreen the night before, and keep those ice scrapers and sprays inside somewhere. You could also invest a few quid in a lock de-icer gadget in case things go a bit Pete Tong.

Snow joke

Getting pulled over by the police really isn’t cool but you may not know that this could happen if you haven’t cleared enough snow from your car, leaving only a letterbox-like section to peer through. The Highway Code actually says that motorists should clear their complete windscreens and a great way to do this is using a soft broom. Don’t forget to clear the side and rear windows, too.

It’s cool to stay warm

We know you might feel like your grandparents by doing this, but there’s nothing uncool about having a box in your boot in which you store a fleece, jumper, blanket or coat for if you get stuck in your car out in the cold. You’ll feel really smug having some warm layers to put on, rather than turning into a block of ice on a closed section of motorway. And if you’re really, really prepared, you could even pack a hot flask of tea or coffee.

Change your driving style

Road conditions can quickly become hazardous in wintry weather and slushy, icy or even just wet surfaces mean cars will take longer to stop if they have to slam their brakes on, so leave even more distance between you and the car in front. If you’re driving at night and especially on dark roads in the countryside with no street lighting, be careful of black ice. You can’t see it, so it’s best to go round corners much more slowly and not brake mid-corner. To set off if the surface is covered in slush or snow, try to do so in 2nd gear as it should give you more grip and stop your wheels spinning.

Take care of yourselves this winter and if you have any stories or additional safe driving tips to share, give us a shout on Twitter or Facebook.

Oliver Hammond

Written by Oliver Hammond

Oliver is an established freelance motoring writer, published journalist and automotive copywriter based in Manchester. He regularly reviews cars and covers events and launches as editor of petroleumvitae.com and his articles appear in various magazines each month. No relation to Richard from Top Gear, he’s got a weakness for luxo-barges, proper 4x4s and oddball cars.