How to Drive in Adverse Weather Conditions
The UK’s weather conditions are notoriously unpredictable, resulting in many road users being unprepared for dangerous road conditions. Adverse weather has a huge impact on road surfaces and the mechanics of a car, so it’s vital that you are prepared for any type of weather that could affect your driving.
Below is a guide on driving in adverse weather conditions, covering heavy rain, snow, ice and hail, fog, and strong wind. As each type of weather produces different road conditions, it’s important that you prepare yourself for all, protecting yourself and your fellow road users. We have teamed up with Jennifer Morris, head of commercial development at DriveTech, to provide expert advice on driving in adverse weather conditions.
Before Setting Off
Most of the safety precautions come from preparing yourself and your car before setting off. Whatever kind of weather you will be facing on the road, you should perform safety checks before you leave.
Should the weather forecast look particularly adverse, you should reconsider taking the trip. Jennifer Morris advises that “the night before a long journey, drivers should refuel, check traffic and the weather forecast so they know what to expect”.
You should also perform periodic checks on your car’s maintenance. Jennifer recommends drivers carry out the ‘P.O.W.D.E.R Check’, which includes the following:
- Power (fuel or electric)
- Oil & other fluids
- Damage to lights, windows, mirrors, and number plates
- Electrics - bulbs, wipers, horn and warning lights
- Rubber - tyres and wiper blades
How to Drive in Rainy Conditions
Driving in wet weather conditions not only affects the surface of the roads but also requires the use of functions on your car that you should be sure are in full working order.
Before driving in rain, you should check:
- Wiper blades
- Fuel level
- Weather (including flooding) updates
- Travel updates
In wet weather, stopping distances are at least doubled. You should leave a four-second gap to the vehicle in front of you to ensure that should anything happen, you will have enough time to react and brake safely.
The larger the vehicle, the longer the stopping distance, so be especially careful when driving around large vehicles, making sure to leave enough space to be able to slow down and brake.
To improve your visibility in the rain, use your headlights. A good rule of thumb is that if you are operating your wiper blades, you should also have your headlights on. In rainy weather, you may also find that your windscreen becomes misty, but keeping your air-con on will maintain a clear windscreen.
How to Drive in Snow
Snow brings with it a multitude of potential hazards, including snow that could be on your vehicle as you prepare to depart. Jennifer advises that “drivers should remove snow and ice from the vehicle, especially the roof, lights and glass screens, as it could fall onto your windscreen and block your view or end up on another driver’s vehicle and block theirs”.
Before you start your journey, you should check that you have the necessary tools and equipment, should there be an incident on the roads. “At minimum, a driver should carry de-icer, a torch, shovel, warm clothes, extra screen wash, sturdy footwear, ice scraper, food & drink, a hi-vis jacket, mobile phone, charger, first aid kit & prescription medicines,” advises Jennifer.
Snow severely affects the grip of a surface, increasing your stopping distance tenfold. Before starting your journey, you must check your tyre tread, as you will not be able to operate the car with much control without the necessary traction. Jennifer says: “For drivers who regularly make long journeys, it may be worth investing in winter tyres, which are especially made for low temperatures and give extra grip when braking.”
Is Driving in a Lower Gear Safer?
“Drivers often believe that driving in a low gear feels safer, but in actual fact, it offers less overall control,” advises Jennifer.
When driving, be sure to use lower speeds than usual to accommodate other road users and unpredictable stopping distances. Your braking, steering, and acceleration should be smooth, and your overall driving style should be predictable to help other road users’ awareness of the road.
How to Drive in Ice and Hail
Your car’s tyre grip is greatly reduced on ice, resulting in braking distances ten times greater than in normal weather conditions.
When ice forms on roads, it is often transparent, rendering it difficult to see where there could be a danger to your car’s manoeuvrability. Ice on roads is also called black ice, and can severely impact your road safety.
“Black ice is hard to see and is caused by rain falling on a frozen surface, with a key indicator being when very little road noise can be heard. Drivers need to be extra careful and avoid skidding with no harsh acceleration, braking and steering. In snow and ice use gears to engine brake; show brake lights with slight pedal touch,” Jennifer advises.
Jennifer adds that drivers can “avoid skidding by limiting harsh acceleration, braking and steering and be sure to use dipped headlights so that everyone can see you.”
If it is hailing outside, you should firstly reconsider whether it is worth making the journey. Not only does hail present a severely worsened visibility, but it can also cause damage to your vehicle and to your person when you leave the car. If your vehicle is parked uncovered, keep your car angled so that the front windscreen takes the brunt of the hailstorm, as it is much more reinforced than side windows, which are at risk of shattering.
Driving in Fog or Mist
Driving in fog or mist requires additional precautions to keep yourself and other road users safe. Fog and mist can drastically reduce visibility, to the point where you may only be able to see a few metres ahead. The Highway Code states that you should use headlights when visibility is under 100 metres in front of you.
If driving in foggy conditions, you should turn on your front and rear fog lights. Your front fog lights are typically white or yellow lights that sit underneath your headlights, shining through fog for greatly increased visibility. The rear fog light is red, much like your brake lights, and helps other road users see your vehicle. You must turn off your fog lights when visibility increases, as this could shine into other drivers’ eyes.
When visibility is extremely low, you should take additional precautions to try and spot other road users, especially smaller vehicles such as bikes. At a junction, you can open your window and listen out for any vehicles nearby.
How to Drive in Strong Wind
Although invisible, wind presents various dangers to road users. As well as potentially veering a vehicle off-course, it can blow debris, such as trees, onto the road. You should drive cautiously in windy conditions, as you may not be able to see upcoming debris that has been blown into your path.
Strong wind is at its most dangerous on open stretches of road, where air currents can pick up a high speed. However, you should also be wary of wind blowing suddenly through gaps in hedges and buildings, as this produces concentrated gusts that could affect your vehicle’s steering.
When driving in strong wind, keep both hands on the steering wheel for increased control. Be ready for sharp gusts on open stretches, especially bridges, and when driving around large vehicles. For the latter, be sure to maintain a low speed and keep a greater distance than usual. You should also pay attention to towed vehicles such as caravans and horse trailers, as these have an increased risk of veering unexpectedly.
What to Pack in a Car Breakdown Kit
As part of your pre-departure checklist, you should keep some essential equipment that could help you in a sticky situation. Jennifer advises: “While on the road in adverse weather conditions, drivers should always carry some basic handy items so they’re prepared for a number of situations. At a minimum, this should include de-icer, torch, shovel, warm clothes, a scraper and spare screen wash.”
In the event of a vehicle breakdown, you should increase your visibility to other road users by using a reflective item, such as a reflective triangle. If driving in snow, additional items such as a shovel and boots could help to get you back on your way.
If travelling with pets in adverse weather, Jennifer advises the following: “Ensure you carry all of your usual necessities, but take additional provisions for your pets, e.g., food, water and blankets. It’s also important that your pets are safe and secure within the vehicle so they can’t move around and distract the driver.”
What Should I Do if I’ve Been Involved in a Car Accident?
If you’ve been in an accident on the road that wasn’t your fault, you may be eligible for financial compensation. You should seek legal advice from professionals with whom you can detail your experience, and in return, you will be presented with your options.
JMW Solicitors are experts in road safety and personal injury claims, helping many understand if they are due compensation. You can get in touch with JMW by phone on 0345 872 6666, or by email through our website form.