Driving to the conditions
As you start to feel more confident on the road, it is important to remember that adverse weather can make the roads more hazardous and that there is a need for extra care and caution to avoid accidents. The following tips will help keep you safe on the road during difficult conditions:
Rain is the most common weather hazard drivers face, so it’s important to check that your car is in good condition to alleviate the risk of an accident. Wipers are your first line of defence and should be replaced every 6 months on average, as cracked rubber reduces their effectiveness. Your brakes are put under more pressure during rain as friction is reduced on the road surface so pump them gently to dry them out when driving through standing water.
Keep your tyres properly inflated. The correct air pressure and tread depth will help prevent skids and 'aquaplaning' where your car coasts across the surface of the water instead of the road. Similarly, oil and fuel on the road surface can mix with the rain to create ‘slick spots’ where your car has little traction, so driving 10-15km slower than the speed limit is recommended.
Driving in fog is an uneasy experience because it can appear with little warning and makes driving conditions hazardous. Even if it’s dark, don’t put your headlights on to high beam because the light will rebound off the fog and fail to illuminate the road. Your fog lights are lower down on the car and will cut through the fog much better than regular headlights.
Maintain a bigger following distance and slow down when reaching an intersection or the crest of a hill as the fog could prevent you from seeing whether a car has stopped there. Dense fog tends not to last for long periods, so it can be a good idea to pull over until the fog starts to lift if the visibility is very poor.
Remember that even good weather conditions still carry risk; sunstrike occurs when the sun’s rays hit the windscreen at a low angle which can temporarily blind the driver, potentially causing an accident because they are unable to see hazards. This is a bigger risk during the winter months when the sun is much lower in the sky, and particularly during sunrise and sunset hours.
It’s important to keep your windscreen clear of dirt and grime which can make the effects of sunstrike worse by reducing visibility, and to always keep a pair of sunglasses in your car. If you do experience sunstrike, pull over to the side of the road when you can do so safely to allow your eyes to adjust, and consider waiting until the worst of the glare passes.
Ice and Snow
Icy and/or snowy roads mark one of the most dangerous hazards to driving, especially ‘black ice’ which forms when the air is warmer than the road and freezes moisture into an invisible layer on the surface. Bridges and overpasses are especially susceptible to black ice, even when weather conditions appear good. Even if you have a four-wheel or all-wheel drive, avoid tailgating and increase your following distance to 9 seconds as someone could break or skid suddenly and your stopping time will be much longer.
It is important to go easy on the brakes during turns to avoid spin-outs where you can lose control of the car. If you do start to skid, turn your car in the same direction as the skid to cancel it out and regain control. Consider getting a car which has an ABS (Anti-Lock Braking) system, which is designed to give you the strongest breaking power without losing traction. If you live in an area which is susceptible to heavy snowfall in the winter or are going on a road trip which takes you through one, carry snow chains in your car so you are prepared in the case of a sudden storm.
Remember: If the weather or the ahead forecast is really severe, the safest decision of all is to avoid driving until the conditions improve.