safe driving in bad conditions - staying safe on the roads

how to stay safe at the wheel when the weather turns nasty

More motorists lose their lives or are seriously injured during the winter months than at any other time of the year. While practicalities - sound tyres, ample fuel, adequate anti-freeze and a clear windscreen are essential to check before setting off, winter motorists should also address their driving technique. To help gear up and face the challenges of poor driving conditions, we'd suggest the following:


Annually, around 250,000 road accidents are reported in Great Britain. Remarkably, over a third of those incidents tend to take place during wet weather conditions when both visibility and road surface quality are obviously poor.

Keep your speed down for safety, and avoid water splashing under your bonnet. Rain can cause problems with electronic control units of almost all petrol engines, affecting engine management systems, coils, distributors and leads.

Beware of aquaplaning. If you are driving at speed, you may experience a build up of water between the tyre and the road surface. In these cases, your tyre loses contact with the road, and is simply sliding forwards on a thin film of water. Ease off the accelerator but do not brake or change direction: if you are aquaplaning, you will have no control over either.

Check the condition of your wiper-blades. Look for splits and perishing rubber.

Use dipped headlights in conditions of poor visibility.

To help clear the curtain of spray from other vehicles, select the correct windscreen wiper speed.Fog

Of the 2,800 vehicles to be caught out in the fog last year, 700 of the casualties which followed were of a fatal or serious nature.

When approaching a junction, open your window and turn off the car stereo, so that you can hear the approach of other traffic.

When you see fog, turn on your headlights immediately, but keep the beam dipped. (Up to 50 per cent of light can be lost through muddy headlamps, so make sure they are clean).

Slow down and abide by the warning lights on the roadside. If they're on, don't speed up even if visibility improves, remember fog is often patchy and drifts.

Keep your distance: if you can see the rear lights of the vehicle ahead you're probably too close.

Don't accelerate to move away from a vehicle that is too close behind. If you have to slow down suddenly, use your hazard lights to warn following traffic.

Make full use of windscreen wipers and de-mister systems.

Don't dazzle other drivers with fog lamps. Only use high intensity rear fog lamps in extreme conditions (when visibility is below 100m). It is an offence to use fog lamps at any other time.

Use your horn to warn other traffic of your presence.Snow

Of the total number of snow-related incidents last winter, 59% occurred on roads with speed limits of 40 mph or less.

Don't drive in snow unless you have to.

Clear your windows before setting off: by law, windscreens and windows need to be free from obscurity, to ensure clear vision under the terms of the Road Vehicles Construction and Use Regulations, 1986.

Keep in as high a gear as possible to avoid wheel spin.

Avoid sharp braking. All but the most gentle braking will lock your wheels on packed snow and ice; if the wheels lock, you will not be able to steer. If you have to slow down, first go into a low gear, then use your brake pedal very gently, giving yourself as much time as possible.

Use dipped headlights when visibility is impaired by falling snow.

If you are caught in a rut or in deep snow, don't rev the engine as this will simply dig your wheels in deeper. We suggest that you get into the highest gear possible and then try manoeuvring the car slightly backwards and forwards to gently creep out of the rut.

If setting off in snow or adverse weather conditions, especially on a long journey, always carry a shovel, travel rug, food and drink, warm clothes, mobile phone and change for a phone box.Ice

Last year, negligent driving on slippery surfaces affected thousands: 63% of all accidents on snow or ice involved skidding.

Keep your speed down and be gentle with every control, whether brakes, clutch, gear or accelerator.

Don't be caught out by the warmth of the interior heater - black ice is an invisible danger which can catch out the most careful of drivers.

Approach corners at a steady speed, in a low gear, and be gentle on the accelerator. Don't touch the clutch unless you absolutely have to; steer smoothly and avoid braking on bends, as the centrifugal force will continue to pull you outwards and tyre grip will be reduced.

Remember, braking distance on ice can be ten times that of the normal distance, especially if travelling downhill. Before descending, select a low gear to enable engine compression to hold the vehicle back by reducing overall speed.