Thursday 30 January 2014

Top tips for safe driving in the winter months

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I'm a bit of a wimp when it comes to driving in the snow I'm afraid. It is not something I'm proud of and I'm trying to become more confident. My fears stemmed from a couple of bad snowfalls back in early 2003 and 2004. In the first one, I was pregnant and my usual 45-minute commute took me 11 hours to trawl. Then in January the following year, I had a four-month-old baby in the car with me and again Hertfordshire was hit with snow and the roads gridlocked. It took us 1.5 hours to travel under a mile and we pulled into a local hotel and they took pity on us with our small baby and gave us a room for the night, I still believe it was the most sensible option, thank goodness I always packed a very good change bag for my baby JJ.

I find that if I take some practical steps before the really bad weather comes then I feel happier and calmer about driving and that makes a big difference.  I'll share with you my tips for safer winter driving -

  • Make sure that your car was topped up with anti-freeze at your last service and if realistically you know that you don't get your car serviced as often as you should then check this and top up as necessary.
  • Having moved to the countryside I can't believe just how dirty my car gets in winter, so I'm having to wash my windscreen far more frequently. It is thus important to make sure your screenwash is topped up and also that the product you are using can cope with freezing weather.
  • I'd also say treat your wipers kindly, don't expect them to try to clear ice, you may damage the blade and also blow the mechanism as you try to make it work too hard.
  • Previously I wondered if winter tyres were just a ploy for garages to make money but having spent a week in Belarus last year in the deep snow I now realise they really do make a difference. So if you can afford to change your tyres and have the room to store your spare set this is great for peace of mind.
  • If you choose not to change your tyres then just keep an eye on the depth of your tread and also make sure they are properly inflated as this will give you the best chance of gripping a snowy or icy road.
  • Before travel, especially in the morning allow yourself time to get your car ready, it does take a while to de-ice the car.  Remember to do all glass, mirrors and lights so so you can see and are visible to other drivers. Never ever use boiling water to de-ice windows like my old neighbour used to, the risk of the glass cracking is high.
  • You can buy winter car kits to keep in your boot or easily make your own up. It is a good idea to have a spade/ snow shovel, wellies, blanket, drinking water and high energy/ long life snacks, first-aid kit, torch and de-icer with scraper.
  • If you don't have the knowledge to be able to fix your car yourself then make sure you have adequate breakdown cover. Currently, I'm fully covered with the AA and I've used the call out service quite a number of times in the years I have been a member. I'll happily recommend the AA as they have arrived quickly, been able to fix my car, give great advice and even entertained my kids!
  • Then most importantly remember that if you are driving on a road covered in ice or snow it will take far longer to brake safely; the stopping distance can be up to ten times the normal. You will to slow right down and steer and break gently, especially at bends in the road. Make sure you apply your breaks lightly and use your gears to slow down and avoid skidding. Then for me it always seems counter-intuitive but you should use the highest gear possible at a low speed when driving in icy conditions as this will help avoid quick acceleration and wheel spin.

Don't forget if the weather looks really bad outside check the news or the met office website before you travel and if you can stay off the roads and don't put yourself at risk.