Driving Hints and Tips
Winter road skills
Driving in snow demands anticipation and delicacy. Always give yourself at least double the distance to the car in front. The Highway Code suggests at least 20 seconds which is 10 times the normal distance. Read the road ahead: look at the surface and behaviour of other cars for clues where it may be slippery. Try to use lower gears downhill so you can stay off the brake and avoid any sudden inputs of steering, brakes or throttle as these are more likely to break grip, so gradual application is key. Likewise, icy conditions can mean little or zero grip if you’re using standard all-season tyres, so treat the road as guilty until proven innocent. Assume there is ice, even if you can’t see it. Again, read the road ahead and look for clues, such as the behaviour of other cars and shady sections of road. Major roads usually receive more grit than minor ones, so plan your route accordingly. The later in the day you travel, the less ice there’s likely to be. If you do encounter a patch and lose grip, don’t panic and hit the brakes. Do as little as possible, allow your car to pass over the ice, keep your steering wheel straight and ease off the accelerator slightly until your grip is regained.
Homemade frost solutions
The Highway Code says that frost cover must be completely removed from your windscreen and windows to ensure ice is not covering a potential blind spot or hazard. To avoid the irritating delays caused by a frosty car, try these simple homemade tips next time the temperature drops. Cover your windscreen with an old towel soaked in a mixture of salt and water the night before. You’ll find this limits frost cover next morning. As frozen mirrors are also deemed a dangerous driving offence, place hole-free plastic bags over your wing mirrors, secured with an elastic band. Your mirrors should be frost-free next morning. If you have an older car which unlocks using a key, remember locks can freeze. To combat the inconvenience, simply place a straw near the frozen lock and breathe warm air on to it.
Effective mirror checks
A common issue for learners and experienced drivers alike is forgetting to regularly check your mirrors while driving. It is a serious omission which you need to correct for your safety and that of other road users. Fortunately, there are ways to help you remember and the following ‘triggers’ should prompt you to check what’s going on behind you. Always look in your mirrors before moving off, before indicating, every time you change direction including turning, overtaking and changing lanes, and every time you change your speed be it faster or slower. Finally, always look in your mirrors every time you encounter a hazard or potential hazard that may cause you to change speed or direction.
Frozen roads are a different ball game to the rest of the year and your driving style needs to adapt for the conditions. Traction is the big difference as there’s less grip on icy and slippery roads. To drive safely, go easy on your controls and always accelerate and decelerate slowly and gently to avoid wheel spin, locking brakes and oversteer. Staying in a high gear can also help maximise your traction. As speed limits are not targets, make sure you drive at a pace safe for these wintery conditions, even if that means travelling slower than usual.
No more ice screen
It’s a common sight to see drivers creeping along with a letterbox size gap scraped into the ice on their windscreens as temperatures turn to frost. Don’t follow this foolish example as rule 229 of the Highway Code states that before you set off, ‘you must be able to see, so clear all snow and ice from all your windows’. This does not mean just the part of the window in front of you, but all of your windscreen. The police have the right to stop and fine you £60 if any part of your screen is obstructed. Again, your number plates and lights must be clear and your mirrors and windows thoroughly demisted. You’ll also need to remove any snow from your car roof to prevent it falling into the path of other road users. Best advice: when there’s snow and ice always give yourself extra minutes to get road ready
Switch those faulty wipers
Do you know when your windscreen wiper blades need changing? As it rains frequently in the UK, you are urged to check your wipers before setting off and change them at least every 12 months. Depending on weather conditions, they may need to be changed after six months. It is definitely time to change them when they start to smear rather than clear water from your windscreen. Poor visibility means you may not see a hazard quickly and slows your reaction time. Modern flat wiper blades don’t screech on the windscreen anymore, so if you are listening for an audible warning you’ll miss the signs. You could also be charged with driving without due care and attention, which carries a £100 on-the-spot fine and up to three penalty points on your licence
Speed bump alert
While not popular with drivers, you will come across speed bumps regularly. Driving over them too quickly or braking just before driving over them can damage your car. By applying your brakes at the last moment, your car will nosedive and compress the suspension precisely as you pass over the speed bump increasing the risk of the underside of your car grazing the bump. In turn, the bump forces your wheels upwards which further compresses your suspension, adding unnecessary strain. Best advice, adjust your speed well before approaching a bump. If you frequently drive over speed bumps, this can increase the wear on the inner shoulder of your tyres.
Your legal lights
Driving with a light on inside the car is not illegal and there is no law against having it on while you are moving. Many drivers believe that driving with your interior light on is against the law as it could distract other motorists. You do not need to worry about falling foul of the Highway Code as it does not mention this. However, you should not cause a visible distraction, for example, by constantly flicking your interior light on and off. Given the numerous lights within the cockpit of a car nowadays, one more located in the roof is unlikely to make much difference, but it can annoy the driver and make it harder to see outside.
Driving on new or unknown roads can be unnerving especially for new drivers, along with the thought of getting lost. If you are taking a route for the first time, research is the key. Take it methodically, study the area beforehand to get an idea of where you’re going and make sure you keep a map in your car even if you have sat nav. Always allow yourself extra time to get to your destination to avoid additional pressure. If it’s estimated to take an hour to get from A to B, allow 90 minutes. You will thank yourself.
Keep your cool
Sometimes there are reasons to feel frustrated behind the wheel, but there’s no point in getting angry with inconsiderate drivers. Consider London ‘black cab’ taxi drivers. They spend all day annoying other drivers by stopping and performing U-turns with little warning, but they tend not to get into disputes. Why? They’re taught to avoid confrontational eye contact with other road users, to not engage in quarrels, to wave and signal before they carry out manoeuvres, and generally avoid aggravation. You can all learn a lot from this. Let others huff and puff, while you stay focused on your journey ahead.