Are you and your drivers prepared for the winter months?
Driving in wintry conditions can be dangerous, and the best advice is to simply avoid going out if the weather takes a turn for the worse.
Unfortunately, modern business requirements dictate that this is not always possible, and sometimes you will find yourself taking to the road in spite of the snow and ice.
In these circumstances, planning is essential to ensure winter driver safety: that you are prepared for what may lie ahead and can maintain the safety of yourself, your vehicle and other road users.
A few quick checks can provide an effective safeguard without the need for any mechanical expertise. This includes ensuring your tyres have the correct tread depth – 1.6mm is the legal minimum, but to adequately cope with snow and ice it is recommend that tread is deeper than this or that the vehicle has winter tyres fitted, including the spare.
Check each light on the car to make sure they all are operating correctly, and also ensure that plastic light coverings are clean and clear.
Winter can take its toll on a car’s battery, particularly in older vehicles, so make sure it is fully charged and in good repair.
Another wise move is to fill up your windscreen washer reservoir with a good quality non-freezing solution with a 50:50 water concentrate, and ensure your window wipers are clean and in good condition by cleaning them with an alcohol-based liquid. If they are leaving streaks on the windscreen they may need replacing as this can hinder visibility, especially at night.
Regular servicing and maintenance should be able to identify any areas in need of attention and will ensure that the vehicle has all of the essential elements and liquids it needs to function.
As winter generally causes delays, try to keep as much fuel in your tank as possible to avoid running out in a queue of traffic, and top up whenever you can.
Other tips include keeping your mobile phone fully charged in case you need to use it to call for help, and monitoring traffic updates, particularly on routes that are liable to be impassable.
One more precaution is to keep a kit in your boot that includes a number of items that could come in useful, should the weather take its toll. A screen wiper, can of de-icer, high-vis jacket, torch with batteries and a first aid kit can all come in handy.
Dealing with ice and frost
Thanks to modern technology, the sight of people fruitlessly scraping their windscreen at the crack of dawn is a thing of the past, but it can still be tempting to take shortcuts.
It is still illegal to drive with your windscreen obscured by snow or ice, and it is also an offence to leave your car unoccupied with the engine running on a public highway, so consider these things before trying to save a few minutes on defrosting the vehicle.
Also, resist the temptation to pour hot water over the windscreen to melt any ice or snow, as it can cause the glass to crack and open up a whole host of new problems.
Driving over ice or snow
While it is certainly no guarantee, most motorists will, at some point, encounter snowy or icy conditions when driving, and in these circumstances a cautious approach is required at all times.
Proven approaches include dropping in to second gear using as little revs as possible to help avoid wheel spin, and turning the steering wheel gently and progressively when you need to change direction.
When accelerating, do so gently to avoid wheelspin, and reduce speed gradually where necessary while keeping a large following distance from the vehicle in front – at least ten car lengths is advisable.
Another important consideration is to keep moving, even at a crawl, and if you do find the vehicle skidding, take your foot off the pedals and steer into the skid.
Planning, as ever, is crucial; try to stick to busier roads that are more likely to be gritted, and keep an eye out for black ice, which is very difficult to see but will glint in the sunlight and moonlight.
If you get stuck in snow
If you do end up stuck in snow, try to stay calm and avoid spinning the wheels – rather than gaining traction, this will actually force the vehicle deeper into the snow.
Instead, turn your wheels from side to side several times to help push the snow out of the way, then gently push the accelerator; the slower, the better, as this will enable the tyres to take more grip.
If possible, exit the vehicle and clear snow away from the wheels, then place sand, gravel or grit in the path of the wheels to gain extra support. Shift from reverse to forwards, and back again, accelerating gently each time, to gain enough traction to escape.
If heavy snow is forecast and you absolutely must drive, pack a shovel in the boot and some extra warm clothes, and keep regular tabs on the weather forecast and traffic updates.
The best way to deal with driving in bad weather is to avoid doing it altogether, but if it is essential then always remember that careful preparation and planning can help to keep you and your vehicle safe.
Post by Colin Gilstin, Group Safety and Environment Manager at Northgate Vehicle Hire