We’re only a month or so away from the shortest day, the clocks went back a month ago and if you have just started learning to drive, congratulations, but things aren’t going to get any easier as regards weather and driving conditions. Of course, learning your Highway Code theory can be done in the comfort and warmth of your own home, but you need to actually get out and practise to become a better driver.
To give yourself the best chance of escaping winter unscathed while honing your skills on the road is to look at the common situations you will encounter and identify why you will need to take care.
It might be sunny, but that shaded corner that hasn’t got the sun yet could still have ice or wet leaves on it, even if the rest of the road is dry. Check your speed and look for telltale shadows.
When there’s a lot more water and dirt on the roads your windscreen or visor will become dirty quickly, as will all your windows. Keeping your windows clear improves your visibility dramatically, particularly when the sun gets low and you are at risk of sun dazzle or sun strike when the sun’s glare refracts off particles on your windscreen.
You may also find that your screen is icy when you go out in the morning. Use cold water to melt the ice; if you pour hot water on the screen the sudden change in temperature can crack it.
When there’s less light because it’s overcast and grey, turn your headlights on. Your headlight should always be on if you are riding a motorbike. If you are driving a car, dark-coloured cars are much less visible against the road than bright coloured cars. If your car doesn’t have daytime running lights, turn on your headlights. Your headlights will also pick out road signs and road markings up ahead.
Use high beam headlights even at dusk as long as there is not another vehicle coming towards you or you’re not following another vehicle.
Less light also means that it’s more important for you to wear your corrective lenses. If your driving is borderline for using corrective lenses and you don’t technically need to wear them, but you know you can see better, winter is the time to wear them in the car or on your bike.
Roads will be wet for longer and could be icy and this additional reflectivity can make it more difficult for you to see lane markings. Look out for cats eyes and reflective road signs to help guide you.
Risk of breakdown
If you are travelling in a more remote area be prepared in case you brake down. You don’t want to have to trek for miles in freezing sleet to get help without warm clothes, or to be trapped overnight in your vehicle without water, food and extra clothing.
When the weather is horrible pedestrians will rush across roads more readily without looking. Those that have umbrellas might have part of their vision obscured.’
Longer stopping distances
The road will be more slippery, your brake discs can accumulate water and your tyres won’t heat up as quickly, all of which can contribute to longer stopping distances. Motorcyclists should be especially careful of wheelspin on the exits of corners and also to avoid riding on manhole covers and road markings as they are slippery.
Truck drivers who are likely to drive more at night to avoid the traffic should be aware that the roads can be icy at night, and freezing fog can descend making driving treacherous.
Likelihood of disruptions
Your travel is more likely to be disrupted in winter and that goes for driving instructors, too. They might be held up between lessons, so be a little flexible.
Darren has owned several companies in the automotive, advertising and education industries. He has run driving theory educational websites since 2010.