Year in, year out, statistics gathered by motoring organisations (such as the UK’s road safety charity, ‘Brake’), only go to prove that the vast majority of drivers have dangerously poor knowledge when it comes to driving in adverse weather conditions.
In a 2016 survey conducted on behalf of both Brake and car insurer, Direct Lane, only 11% of drivers believed the stopping distance to be twice as long in icy weather, whereas a third thought it was four times as long and 27% believed it should be five times as long. In fact, only 23% of drivers gave the correct answer – which is that the stopping distance in icy weather can be up to 10 times as long.
Adverse weather conditions continue to have a huge impact on the many accidents which take place across the UK every day of the week. In this article we take a look at the type of conditions causing the most problems and more importantly, how to avoid them.
What sort of weather conditions affect car accidents?
Whilst roads tend to be at their most dangerous during winter months, all types of weather conditions can have a massive impact on the cause of accidents – even the sun! In fact, come rain or shine there’s always potential for the weather to cause, or contribute to, a car accident.
Wet weather … When the roads are wet, stopping distances more than double and vision can be substantially reduced too. When it comes to motorway driving a combination of these can be lethal; not to mention the added spray from other vehicles and particularly HGV’s or buses.
You should always slow down at the first sign of any rain or drizzle as this is when many road surfaces are at their most hazardous. Not only does the damp reduce traction but when the moisture mixes with any oil on the road it also makes the surface much more slippery.
In any type of wet weather, you should always ensure that your lights are on and if the rainfall is extremely heavy, simply pull over at an appropriate place and wait for it to stop.
Unfortunately, wet road surfaces can soon cause tyres to skim on thin layers of water (known as ‘hydroplaning’). This is caused by a combination of standing water, car speed and under-inflated tyres, hence the importance of having your tyres checked on a regular basis. If you’re not sure what pressure they should be, simply ask your local car dealer or look it up online.
Whilst many new vehicles are now fitted with certain safety features to alleviate incidents on the road, hydroplaning is particularly dangerous. If it happens, the best way to react is to simply take your foot off the accelerator and allow the car to slow down until the tyres start to grip again.
Icy weather … As we’ve already seen, icy weather can make stopping distances up to ten times greater than normal; yet less than a quarter of drivers actually know this, let alone take account of it. Accidents also have a tendency to happen when drivers come off main roads, which have been gritted, onto side roads, which haven’t. Whilst local authorities are responsible for clearing roads, both financial restraints and resources make it impossible for all types of roads to be gritted and in fact, only around 40% are.
Snow … Roads are at their worst when snow or ice begins to melt – or when the ice starts to freeze over, which can be lethal. The best way to drive in snow is by using a low gear. If you find yourself in an uncontrollable skid, take your foot off the accelerator and turn the front wheels in the same direction as the skid. Many drivers tend to do the exact opposite and this simply makes matters much worse.
Fog … Perhaps one of the worse weather conditions to drive in is fog – particularly when it’s patchy and giving just very brief periods of vision.
Whilst there might be a temptation to turn the lights on full beam, this certainly isn’t recommended since it actually decreases overall visibility. High beams simply reflect back and cause a glare so simply use low beam and/or fog lights to ensure that you’re visible to other road users and yet without reducing your own visibility to see them.
Bright sunshine … Although it’s lovely to go for a drive when the sun comes out (and many people do – particularly at the weekend), the sun can also reduce visibility and hugely increase the likelihood of an accident. Driving towards the sun from sunrise to sunset can also impair visibility so, although it might make for a spectacular sight, it can also pave the way for an accident waiting to happen.
High wind … High winds are particularly troublesome for those towing trailers or driving HGV’s. The best defensive action you can take during high wind is to drive at a much slower speed and where possible, avoid big open spaces, viaducts and bridges since these naturally attract the worse of the weather.
High winds will also reduce steering control. Tail winds will push the car, thus increasing speed, whilst head winds will most likely slow the car down.
Crosswinds … Strong crosswinds can cause vehicles to swerve so always be prepared and only drive in crosswinds if you absolutely have to. Again, these are at their worse in wide open spaces and you might encounter even stronger gusts whilst passing a HGV or bus. Unfortunately, wind gusts can occur suddenly – and in some cases, cause total loss of vehicle control – so always be prepared and know how best to react.
Hot weather … Everyone likes a bit of sunshine, but hot weather can also prove hazardous too. This is when temperatures rise inside and outside of our cars. If you’re out driving in hot weather always be sure to keep an eye on any warning lights and especially the temperature gauge – especially if you’re stuck in stationary traffic for any length of time. If you notice a sudden increase in temperature then put your car into neutral and lightly step on the accelerator to help circulate coolant. The last thing you need is a breakdown since these again, can quickly cause accidents.
Come rain or shine, any type of weather condition can very quickly affect driving conditions, so always be sure that you’re fully prepared for every eventuality and give yourself enough time to react.
If weather conditions are extremely poor, then only take to the roads when you absolutely have to. No journey is worth risking an accident and certainly not the potential consequences.