An examiner’s tale – welcome to winter driving!

A car driving on a snowy day

Winter is upon us – a time of dark mornings, early sunsets, putting on the heating, woolly jumpers and plenty of mince pies. And (this is a personal observation) why is winter clothing so dark and drab, compared with summer shirts that wouldn’t look out of place on a Pacific island? It seems that, as the days get shorter, clothing manufacturers do their best to make sure we can’t be seen when we’re out and about.

As the seasons change for the gloomier, the risks of using the roads increase, so I thought I’d give you some tips to help you stay safe.

  • Ask yourself: do I really need to make this journey? If the weather’s looking a bit dodgy and the road conditions aren’t great, maybe you could save yourself a potentially risky journey by staying in or by using public transport to get where you need to be. If you do decide to drive, check the weather forecast before you set out so you’ll know what to expect on your journey.
  • Wear high-visibility clothing. This doesn’t just apply to cyclists. As a pedestrian – even when you’re simply walking to and from the car – you could dramatically increase the chances of other road users seeing you in good time. On a wet and dark road with numerous headlights coming from all directions, someone in dark clothing is much more difficult to see than a person wearing something bright or reflective.
  • Check your vehicle’s lights regularly. You’ll be doing this already but, in the winter months, you’ll be using your headlights more often and for longer, so the bulbs are more likely to fail. Drivers in front of you could mistake you for a motorcyclist if one of your headlights is out, and not allow enough room for the width of your vehicle. Also, it may seem obvious, but don’t forget to switch your lights on if it’s getting dark!
  • Have winter tyres fitted. Useful in the snow and ice, winter tyres also have benefits even when it hasn’t snowed but temperatures have dropped sharply. These tyres are made from a special kind of rubber and have a different tread pattern, which together reduce the risk of losing control through poor tyre grip.
  • Invest in good-quality polarised sunglasses. The sun is low in the sky during the winter, so it’s easy to be dazzled while you’re driving, particularly in wet weather. Compared with standard sunglasses, polarised sunglasses improve contrast and reduce reflections and glare.
  • Use a screen wash. In freezing conditions, road salt/grit is thrown up by traffic and this can coat your windscreen with a film of dirt. Combine this with low winter sun and your view can quickly deteriorate. Use a propriety screen wash, as this has an anti-freeze added and should ensure you can keep your windscreen clean, clear and free from smears even in the lowest temperatures.
  • Stopping distances. If conditions reduce your view of the road ahead, give yourself enough space and time to take any necessary action. Remember: on dark, dreary days hazards are harder to spot.
  • Have the right equipment. Keep some de-icer, an ice scraper, a blanket, drinking water, a high-visibility jacket, a warm coat and a high-visibility triangle with you in the car. Maybe some of those mince pies wouldn’t go amiss either, but don’t eat them while you’re driving!

You can read more about winter-weather driving in our ‘Safe Driving for Life’ eBook, Winter Driving.

And, if you’re going to take your driving test this winter, watch our YouTube video Driving tests in bad weather – what you need to do. The chances are the weather will be just fine, but it wouldn’t hurt to prepare yourself.

Stay safe and keep cosy!