Top tips on driving in winter weather

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Blessed with a moderate climate, the UK doesn’t experience extreme winter weather as often as some countries, but when the snow and ice does hit, the consequences can be severe.

During the winter months, it’s not always possible to postpone journeys, with millions of drivers still needing to use Britain’s roads for professional or personal reasons.

As a Qualified ‘Advanced’ Driver and LGV driver with 39 years’ experience driving on all kinds of roads, in all kinds of conditions, Mark Shaw, Manager Driver Training of FedEx UK, has shared his top tips for safe driving in poor weather.

Preparing for your journey:

Keep essential items in your vehicle. Ice scrapers are helpful when leaving in the morning and a folding shovel, kept in the vehicle, can be useful for clearing a path through deep snow. Don’t forget your gloves, warm clothing/blankets, snacks and a safety triangle.

Plan your journey. Try to use main roads wherever possible as they are more likely to have been cleared and gritted. Avoid using very quiet roads wherever possible. Keep an up-to-date map in the vehicle (don’t just rely on Sat-Nav).

Make sure your fuel and fluid levels are topped up. You may need to make a longer journey than originally planned due to road closures or traffic congestion.

Charge your mobile phone and keep a spare charger in the car. This will allow you to call for help in an emergency. If you are travelling alone on a long journey, let someone know your ETA so they can alert the emergency services if you do not arrive.

Consider winter tyres. If you live in an isolated area known for bad weather conditions, winter tyres could be a good investment or you might consider hiring or buying snow chains. Regular Tyres should be at the correct pressure and have good all round tread depth.

Keep windscreens and all windows clean and clear. You should also remember to fill up the windscreen fluid bottle with screen wash, to avoid freezing.

Use your heater system or air conditioning to demist the windscreen. This will lessen the amount of condensation inside the vehicle.

Make sure all lights and number plates are free from snow/Ice. This should be done on the front and the back, it’s a legal requirement. If a light stops working, replace them as soon as you can. Carry out a walk-round check of your vehicle before you set off on your journey.

While driving:

Change your driving habits. Accelerate/brake gently, avoiding high revs, and consider setting off in a higher gear to avoid wheel spin

Keep well back from other vehicles. Remember that stopping distances can increase ten-fold in icy conditions. You should therefore drive accordingly and watch your speed. Keep a safe distance from the car in front and avoid sudden steering movements. It is also important to always keep an eye on the other cars and remember to use all your mirrors.

Use dipped headlights or fog lights in reduced visibility. This alerts other drivers to your presence, but ensure you turn them off if visibility is above 100 metres.

Keep an eye on both the weather and the temperature. When temperatures drop to around zero, keep a close eye on the road. If it looks wet, then it’s probably icy. Always be mindful about the possibility of black ice.

Try to drive so that you don’t need your brakes. When the roads are icy, using your brakes can do more harm than good. Give yourself plenty of time to slow down, moving down the gear box gradually/smoothly to reduce speed in a controlled way.