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Driving in adverse conditions

By Graham Evans
Practice Leader - Risk Solutions

If driving conditions deteriorate it is always best to put off driving if possible. If you do have to drive, here is our guidance on how to minimise the risk of having an accident. 

Be prepared
It is recommended that you leave yourself more time to prepare before setting off in your vehicle in poor conditions. Useful points to consider include:

  • Ensure that your lights are working and clean. Keep reflectors clean too
  • Make sure that your windscreen is fully clear
  • Before you set off, ensure that your windows are demisted
  • Ensure that your vehicle battery is in good condition. Battery problems are the most common cause of winter breakdowns
  • Plan your route so you can stay on major roads as much as possible
  • Listen to weather forecasts and travel bulletins
  • If you have a cold or related illness, consider whether you are fit to drive
  • Adjust your schedule to allow for much longer travelling times.

When it rains
When driving in the rain, stopping distances need to be twice as great as they would be on dry roads. Points to remember:

  • Use your dipped headlights, drive smoothly, plan ahead and brake gently
  • If your vehicle starts to aquaplane, take your foot off the accelerator and slow down to let the tyres make contact with the road surface
  • When roads get flooded, avoid the deepest water near the curb but if the water appears too deep, find an alternative route. If you do hit standing water, always check your brakes afterwards.

If the sun shines
We don’t see so much sun in the winter but when we do, it can be low in the sky and can cause a hazard by dazzling drivers. The sun can be low enough to render your sun visor ineffective so ensure you have sunglasses to hand (prescription sunglasses if you need them). Avoid sunglasses that darken in sunlight as they will react too slowly. Keeping the inside and outside of your windscreen clean and free of smears will reduce the effect of glare. If you have stubborn smears on the windscreen, try using dissolved dishwasher powder in water or cream glass cleaner with clean kitchen paper. The final point to remember is to simply reduce your speed and turn on your lights so you can be seen.

In windy weather
When the winter brings high winds, please remember the following:

  • Cyclists and motorcyclists can be blown off course so leave more space than usual between you and two-wheeled road users
  • Be aware that high-sided vehicles caught in high winds could lose control
  • Bridges and high buildings can alter wind movements, so be aware of sudden gusts.

Driving in fog
We all know to use dipped headlights in foggy conditions. However, fog lights should only be used when visibility is reduced to less than 100 metres. Please remember:

  • When it looks like fog is clearing you can suddenly hit another fog bank
  • Wind down your window and turn your radio off so you can hear vehicles approaching
  • Never park on the road in fog. If you do need to stop, use warning lights
  • Make sure you can stop within the distance you can see in front of you
  • Do not follow the vehicle lights in front too closely; you will limit your stopping distance
  • If you can see the vehicle behind, they can see you so your rear fog lights can be turned off to avoid dazzling the driver behind you.

It’s clear that we need to adapt the way we drive when faced with adverse weather. Conditions can change quickly and vary widely over short distances and all these conditions need different driving considerations so no matter what vehicle you drive - you need to be prepared. We often blame bad weather for accidents when usually it is poor preparation and inappropriate driving behaviour that is the real cause.