Driving in extreme weather conditions

By , January 12, 2010 4:08 PM

Ireland doesn’t usually call for things like keeping a spare set of snow tyres, packing snow chains or having your car’s engine fully waterproofed, but with bad weather on its way there’s definitely a case for being prepared for the worst. Here are some tips.

Ice and snow

Ice and snow represent arguably the worst hazard because they make the roads entirely unpredictable. We can’t go through every single scenario now, but here are the basics for staying as safe as possible while driving in icy and snowy conditions:

  • Always have a warm blanket, a reflective jacket and a bar of chocolate with you in case you get stranded in snow. Make sure your mobile is charged too.
  • Before you go out, scrape every window for maximum visibility – a quick rub across the driver’s side windscreen with a credit card won’t do.
  • If possible, avoid driving through the first snowfall because the roads probably won’t be gritted.
  • Drive slowly, obviously, because black ice can form anywhere. Be particularly careful on roundabouts and corners.
  • Pull over somewhere safe in a blizzard until it clears – it’s not worth the risk of driving in really low visibility.

Water

Flash flooding is increasingly a problem and causes havoc for drivers (the latest bout in Ireland is a case in point), but even normal rainfall has a marked affect on the braking and handling of your car:

  • Stopping distance is the main thing to look out for when there’s water lying on the road – it could more than double compared to a dry road.
  • Watch out for ‘aquaplaning’ – when your tyres lose all grip and slide across lying water. If that happens (you’ll feel the steering go eerily light) don’t turn the wheel or slam on the brakes.
  • When turning corners, water can make the car behave like it’s on ice, so drive slowly.
  • Drive as far from the kerb as possible to stay clear of the deepest water (and avoid soaking pedestrians).
  • Never drive through fast moving water or you could be swept away.
  • Test your brakes once you have come through deep water.
  • Don’t drive too close to cars in front – spray reduces visibility and increased stopping distances could result in a nasty rear end shunt.
  • Only drive if absolutely necessary (as is the case with all bad weather). Driving through deep water can damage your car in a number of ways.

Wind

Crosswinds are the most dangerous element of windy weather for drivers. They affect high-sided cars most of all, so be particularly aware if you’re in an SUV or MPV:

  • Roads through flat, open areas are especially susceptible, so be aware of your surroundings when it’s windy.
  • Keep both hands on the wheel at all times in case you’re blown off course and have to counteract quickly.
  • Watch out for other road users being blown into your path, as well as debris on the road.
  • Slow down – the car is more stable at lower speeds.

Fire

Obviously we’re not talking Top Gear style ring of fire stunt driving here, but driving in very hot weather – which brings its own set of hazards:

  • Overheating of the engine is a bigger risk in very hot weather, so keep an eye on your temperature gauge. If the car is overheating, putting the internal heater on full will draw heat from the engine. (It’ll make your life a misery for a while, but at least you’ll get home!)
  • Don’t drive if your car is seriously overheating (in the red on the coolant temperature gauge) – you’ll damage the engine.
  • Watch the tyres – hot tyres will damage more easily, especially if they’re under-inflated. Check your tyre pressures.
  • Glare is a huge problem in the sunshine, so wear sunglasses and make sure your windscreen is clean. Dazzle causes accidents.

For more advice, the AA has a good section on its website about driving in seasonal weather, which can be found at www.theaa.com/motoring_advice/seasonal/index.html

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