Advice on driving in extreme weather conditions

"Driving in bad conditions is fine so long as you are prepared and know how to handle them," says Ian McIntosh, CEO of RED Driving School.

Ian has produced some advice on driving in various weather conditions so you can handle all situations you may face on the road.

Heavy rain
As most people are probably aware, heavy rain can come out of nowhere, with little warning, and cause serious problems on the road. It is important to remember that on wet roads it takes double the time to stop a car due to reduced friction between the tyres and road surface. It means you should keep double the distance between you and the car in front of you. It is also important to keep your distance due to reduced visibility as this can slow down your reaction times.

Flooding
Few people would guess that just 15cm of water can cause loss of control of a car but this amount of water can cause aquaplaning when a tyre encounters more water than it can dissipate and stalling due air intake being congested. 30cm of flowing water is enough to wash a car away entirely. It is for this reason that flooded roads get closed off and it is vital not to ignore these warnings. Although the water may look shallow to you, roads dip meaning further down the road you may experience difficulties. If you do find yourself driving through an area of deep water, let the car in front of you go first so you can tackle the water one at a time and keep at a slow and steady pace in the middle of the road. Once you have got to the other side of the water, make sure you test your brakes are working fine and dry them off by tapping the brake with your left foot whilst accelerating with your right.

Icy Roads
Ice on the roads is not always visible; this is known as black ice. If your car is iced over when you get in it, the chances are there will be ice on the roads too so drive with caution. Stopping distances are multiplied by 10 on icy roads meaning a large gap should be left between you and the car in front and your average speed should be majorly reduced. It is also important to turn corners and brake very slowly to avoid skidding. If your wheels do lock, ease off the brake and keep pumping them gently. Try to drive in the lowest gear possible to keep traction with the road. Take extra caution on quiet roads as these are likely to be the worst.

What to do if you skid:
If you start to skid, countersteer. For example, if you were turning right and the rear of your car skids to the left, turn the steering wheel to the left to bring it back straight and regain control. When we teach RED pupils we normally say, look where you want to go and point your steering wheel there too. The movements are normally much smaller than you would think.

Snow
Try and avoid driving in the snow if possible unless your car is well equipped i.e. you have chains on your tyres and/or a four wheel drive. If you do need to drive in the snow however, allow yourself plenty of time to reach your destination and try and stick to the roads that have been gritted or ploughed. Make sure you have plenty of fuel and be sure to clear all the snow from your car, including the roof, before pulling away. Do not do this with hot water as this could crack the glass of your vehicle. Driving in snow is all about keeping a good pace – don’t drive too fast allowing you to remain in full control of your vehicle but don’t drive too slowly as you need to maintain momentum. Move off in a higher gear and try and drive in high gears too for better control. When driving downhill, drive very slowly from the start so you can minimise braking. Consider using engine braking by changing down.

What to do if you get stuck:
If you are struggling to move off, it is probably because one tyre is spinning due to lack of friction. The first thing to do is ride the brakes slightly as you are accelerating as this should decrease the spinning slightly. If this doesn’t work it is worth getting out your car to assess the situation. Are you able to clear the snow? If not, the foot mats can work as a good last resort. Put them in front of the leading wheels (dependent on whether your car is a front wheel or rear wheel drive) and accelerate slowly, making sure nothing is behind your car, as the mats could spin out suddenly.

Strong Winds
Strong winds can get under the car and significantly affect its handling and braking. Gusts of wind can catch you off guard so it is important to hold the steering wheel tightly at all times. Try to avoid overtaking high sided vehicles when wind speeds are high as a sudden gust of wind may come as you clear. Make sure you park your car in a safe place i.e. away from trees or tall buildings and look out for debris on the road.

Fog
Statistically, fog is the most dangerous driving hazard there is. The minute you hit fog brake slowly to warn other drivers behind. Remember to turn your fog lights on so you are more visible but do not turn on your beam lights on as this directs light in to the fog, making it more difficult for you to see. It is easy to accelerate in fog without realising you are doing so as there are no landmarks to compare your speed with, so keep an eye on your speedometer so ensure you stick at a sensible speed. If you can’t see 12 metres ahead, you need to be driving at less than 20mph.

RED Driving School, part of RDS Driving Services Ltd, is the UK’s largest driving school and teaches in excess of 100,000 learner drivers to pass the UK government driving test each year. RED delivers a tailored teaching programme focused on helping its pupils become safe and confident drivers beyond the test stage. RED is a franchise business, allowing driving instructors to trade under the company’s established and trusted name. Instructors benefit from a centralised lesson booking system, national promotion by association with RED and a range of technical and business development support services. www.reddrivingschool.com