How to fully prepare for winter motoring

October 21, 2014 | By | In Buying Guides
How to fully prepare for winter motoring

Passing your driving test is a big step towards becoming a safer driver. However, a new survey carried out by Privilege car insurance has discovered that a large proportion of new drivers feel unprepared for many weather conditions and road types – with many going on to have accidents as a result.

Undoubtedly, a number of more seasoned drivers come a cropper in winter too, thanks to the longer nights and slippery conditions that arrive with the change of season. Here we’ve rounded up some tips to keep new – and more experienced – drivers safe on the roads through the dark winter months.

Adapt to winter weather conditions

Nearly three quarters of new drivers questioned in the Privilege survey didn’t experience winter conditions when learning to drive – and this brings with it a number of additional hazards. As a result, 25 per cent of new drivers went on to have an accident in these conditions. However, these are avoidable, if you’re prepared for winter roads.

The colder months see leaves on the roads, wet tarmac, fog, ice and snow all making an appearance and you’ll need to change your driving style to suit. You may get used to the level of grip your car has in dry conditions, but this can drop markedly when the road is wet – especially if you have worn tyres that can’t clear the surface water as effectively as new rubber.

To stay safe on the roads, therefore, driving a little slower than you would in dry conditions is wise, to give extra leeway for any slippery bits of Tarmac, leaves, or big puddles that may be hiding around the next corner.

Take particular care driving through water, especially around corners, as the car’s tyres can aquaplane – meaning that the tyre rises on top of the water – dramatically reducing your car’s level of grip and braking power. If you do experience this, lift off the brakes and throttle and wait for the car to stop sliding before steering out of the skid.

Cut your speed in snow and ice

If temperatures have dropped below four degrees – or you’re driving early in the morning, when roads are thawing out – keep an eye out for icy patches of road, where grip levels are low. If you do come across one of these patches, lift off the accelerator and avoid braking hard, as that can cause the wheels to lock, resulting in a loss of control.

As for snow, your car may struggle to find traction at all. If you’re in a part of the country where snow falls regularly, investing in winter tyres or snow socks – sheets of fabric that wrap around your tyres to provide grip on snow – may be a wise move, if you need to keep using your car.

Braking distances also jump dramatically in ice and snow – typically increasing tenfold, so leave more space behind the car in front and take corners more slowly.

Understand your car’s controls

Also key to driving safely is understanding your car’s controls, so you can give the road your full attention, rather than being distracted looking for a certain button or stalk when it gets dark, or you pass through a patch of fog.

Spend 10 minutes fiddling around with your car’s controls when parked up, so you understand how to put on your headlights – the difference between sidelights and normal headlights – and how to use full beam. Keep an eye out for the icons that pop up on the dials, so you don’t end up dazzling other drivers by using full beam lights without realising it, for instance.

If your car has fog lights, have a quick look in the manual to see how to switch these on. As their name suggests, these are only to be used in thick fog, and legally must be switched off when visibility rises to above 100m to avoid blinding other drivers. Likewise, spend time fiddling with your windscreen wipers and washers when parked up, so you know exactly how to use them and to make sure the wipers aren’t worn and smearing across the glass. You’ll also need to keep your washer fluid topped up, so you don’t end up with a windscreen covered in muck that you can’t clear on the road.

Take care on motorways and B roads

As learner drivers are forbidden from driving on motorways, these roads are, understandably, a mystery to many newly-qualified drivers. Despite this – and the fact that nearly a quarter of new drivers feel unprepared for the UK’s largest and fastest roads – only a small proportion of accidents happen here.

Of more concern are smaller B roads, which catch out one in four new drivers. Consequently, driving along a number of B roads with a more experienced driver helping to point out the potential hazards may be wise.

Look into advanced driving courses

If you’d like to build your confidence on different types of roads, or get some feedback on areas where you can improve your driving, a number of organisations, including the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM), offer courses that can assess your driving.

These courses can often be tailored to your needs, so you could devise a route that focuses on B roads and motorways, if these are areas where you feel less confident.

Picture: Christian Muller

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