Staying safe when driving in bad weather

Cars on a motorway in rain

The weather in Scotland can be unpredictable at the best of times. On a bad day, there is always the chance that you could experience all four seasons in just one day. But when you are behind the wheel of a car you need to be prepared whatever the weather to ensure your safety, the safety of your passengers and other road users.

By taking some simple steps you can make your journey safer and less stressful during severe weather.

How to drive safely through snow and ice

Driving in snow and ice increases normal stopping distances by ten times.

With this in mind, it is important to drive at a slow speed in a high gear, instead of braking suddenly which can cause your wheels to lock and the car to skid, use your gears to slow your car down.

Icy roads are not always noticeable so look for indicators such as icy pavements, ice on your windscreen, or the temperature gauge in your car telling you the temperature outside is freezing.

If you have any snow on the roof of your vehicle make sure that you remove it before setting off, as you don’t want the snow to slide down your windscreen and obstruct your view.

To read more tips on driving in winter weather you can read our blogs Winter is coming – Driving safety tips and Tips for driving in snow and icy road conditions.

How to drive safely in the darker evenings and mornings

At this time of year the darker mornings and evenings mean that most of us are spending some, if not all, of our commute in darkness.

We recommend that you use dipped headlights lights as soon as it begins to get dark and use full beam lights on more rural roads but remember to dip them for oncoming vehicles.

Pedestrians can be particularly difficult to spot in the dark, so be extra vigilant, especially when driving in residential areas or near schools.

How to drive safely in the rain

As with snow and ice, rain impacts on normal stopping distances, increasing it two fold. Make sure you slow down and maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front.

Heavy rain effects visibility too, making hazards harder to spot. Make sure your windscreen wipers are working properly and if not, replace them as soon as possible.

Heavy rain can also lead to surface water, which if deep enough can cause a car to aquaplane. This is when the front tyres lose contact with the road surface and can feel like there is no control over the car.

If you experience this, take your foot off the accelerator to slow down, avoid steering or braking as it could cause the car to skid.

How to drive safely in flood conditions

It might sound obvious but try and avoid driving through deep water as this could flood the engine of a car.

If there is no other option and you do have to drive through a flood, drive slowly in first gear, keep moving forward to avoid stalling and keep the engine revving at a high rate. Please be aware that the deepest water is near the kerb. 

Once you are through flooded water make sure you remember to test your brakes to ensure they are still working correctly.

How to drive safely in windy weather

We tend to think of high-sided vehicles when there is a weather warning about strong winds. Yet wind affects all sizes of vehicle.

A sudden gust of wind can cause smaller vehicles and motorcyclists to veer of course, so be aware of vehicles travelling around you. 

As a driver you should also be aware of any debris that may unexpectedly be blown into your pathway. Be ready to react to keep safe.

How to drive safely in fog

Drive slowly using dipped headlights to enable other drivers to see you. However, if your visibility is less than 100m then you must put your fog lights and rear high intensity lights on. When visibility improves then you must switch your fog lights back off.

Make sure you keep a safe distance from any vehicles travelling in front of you. Whilst it may give you a feeling of comfort to stay close to the tail-lights ahead, the fog could distort how close you are actually driving to the vehicle and you could be driving far too close. Not to mention it could make the driver in front nervous. Remember you need to give yourself enough distance from the vehicle in front to allow yourself time to react.

Fog tends to be patchy. As visibility improves don’t hare off trying to make up for lost time as you could find yourself right back in another patch of fog.

How to deal with low sun

Even in the winter you can be caught out by low sun while driving. Sun glare can be very dangerous and make it almost impossible to see what is coming up ahead.

Always keep a pair of sunglasses in the car to avoid sun glare and keep your windscreen clear.

Be prepared

If you have to travel in bad weather, it is essential that you are prepared.

Before setting out make sure there are no police travel warnings which may impact your journey, details for these as well as any up to date disruptions can be found at trafficscotland.org.

Ensure that the weather forecast and the predicted conditions for your journey are safe before setting off.

Make sure, particularly in winter, that your car is safe for the journey ahead. More details on this can be read in our blog Winter is coming – but is your car ready for winter?.

And if you do get stuck, make sure you have an emergency kit in your car like a warm blanket and some food and water.

And finally, if the weather is bad and you do need to travel consider if you need to travel right now? Or is there an alternative route you could take that would be safer?