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Winter driving part 1: Being prepared

Winter brings its own driving challenges as the roads flood or freeze and many more journeys are taken in the dark. Dave Hall, ex-police driver and now a driver trainer operating CAT Driving, offers checklists for anyone in the family venturing out in the cold and wet.

Prepare your vehicle

It’s a good idea to have your vehicle fully serviced before winter starts and have the anti-freeze tested. If you can’t have it serviced, then do your own checks. The POWER acronym is helpful as a reminder of what needs to be checked:

  • Petrol. Do you have enough for the journey and any detours if you get stuck?
  • Oil. Check it once a week
  • Water. Check your windscreen de-icer is topped up with a 50/50 mix so it won’t freeze. It only costs a couple of pounds so there’s no need to take the risk of using water only
  • Electrics. Are your lights clean and working?
  • Rubber. Are your tyres pumped up? Check your windscreen wiper blades also

Take an emergency kit wherever you go

When extreme weather is possible, keep an emergency kit in your car, especially if you’re going on a long journey. If you think this seems unnecessary, take a moment to imagine yourself stranded in your car overnight due to a snow storm or floods. How would you stay warm? What would you eat and drink? If you must drive in these conditions, we recommend everyone carries at all times:

  • Tow rope
  • Shovel
  • Wellington boots
  • Hazard warning triangle
  • De-icing equipment
  • First aid kit (in good order)
  • Working torch
  • Car blanket

For every journey, travellers should remember to pack:

  • Additional warm clothes
  • Emergency rations (including a hot drink)
  • Fully charged mobile phone (with reminder instructions if necessary)
  • A car phone charger (just in case)

Before you go

If you’re online, you can check highway authority cameras as well as Traffic England’s motorway flow tool to see what the road conditions are like before you set off, and do the same for your parents if they’re not internet-savvy.

Everyone can listen to local/national weather broadcasts and travel bulletins. As conditions can change rapidly, check them regularly and be prepared to change your plans if conditions on your route worsen.

Is the journey really necessary?

If conditions are very bad, and the emergency services are recommending that people don’t travel, then everyone should try to avoid making a journey unless it is absolutely necessary. Can the trip be postponed? Can the journey be made by other means, or would an email or phone call do instead?

Of course, what’s “essential” to one person may not be to another. For a retired person there’s no pressure to make important business trips, but parents may want to keep appointments at hospitals, for example. In that case perhaps volunteer transport or a taxi can travel more safely than they might, or if it’s not urgent the appointment could be re-scheduled with a phone call.

Essential journeys

If the journey is really important, there are steps everyone can take to help ensure a comfortable and safe trip.

  • Let someone know where you are going and what time you hope to arrive, so they can raise the alarm if you get into difficulties
  • Plan alternative routes in case your first choice becomes impassable.
  • Keep your fuel tank full so you don’t run out
  • Make sure you have a fully charged mobile phone, and that you know how to use it
  • Keep an emergency kit in your vehicle, or at the minimum some extra warm clothes, boots and a working torch.
  • A couple of long-life energy bars stashed in the glove compartment is a good idea
  • Clear your windows and mirrors completely before you set off, and make sure the heater is blowing warm air to keep the windscreen clear.

Prepare yourself

Most of us have very little experience of driving in extreme conditions, such as snow, so take some time to consider how it affects your driving. Don’t just drive as normal. If you’re unsure about your ability to drive in bad weather, go for refresher training.

A lot of us may catch colds or other illnesses during the winter. If you’re feeling so ill that your driving might be affected, don’t take the chance of driving.

If the worst happens

If you get stranded, don’t panic.

Stay with your vehicle and call the emergency services on your mobile phone.

CAT Driving operates in Surrey and offers refresher training for older and nervous drivers. Call Dave Hall on 07531 877055 for more information.

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