How to drive safely in fog, rain, snow and ice

A quick glance outside will tell you that the weather is turning, with daylight hours getting shorter and rain, fog and even snow causing tricky conditions on the road.

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New research has found that the effects of bad weather on visibility can increase drivers’ reaction times by between 13 and 75 per cent, increasing the likelihood of an accident.

Thick fog was found to cause the biggest problems, with drivers taking 75 per cent longer to spot a hazard than in clear conditions. Snow was found to slow reactions by 34 per cent while heavy rain slowed them by 30 per cent.

To help motorists adapt their driving to poor conditions, John Parry, driving instructor at Parry’s Fleet Services has the following advice:

Driving in fog

Use dipped headlights to start, however, if visibility is less than 100 metres, use front fog lights. Always drive slowly and increase the gap between you and other vehicles. If it’s really thick fog, consider opening your windows at junctions and roundabouts to hear approaching traffic. If conditions are really bad, you should consider whether your journey is essential. Lastly, it’s important to remember that fog can be patchy, so try not to speed up if conditions improve – you could run back into it a few miles further down the road.

Driving in rain

Reduce your speed and leave more space between you and the car in front. Look out for fast-moving vehicles going the opposite way which may create spray and reduce your visibility as it hits your windscreen. Also, use your air conditioning as it will help to avoid misting inside the car. Should your vehicle start to aquaplane (lose grip in a puddle), don’t go for the brakes, take your foot off the accelerator and slow down gradually.

Driving in snow and ice

It can be hard to tell if a road is icy. If your tyres are making virtually no noise on the road you could well be driving on ice. If you are on sheet ice, don’t brake as this will make you skid further. If you find yourself behind a gritter or snow plough, only overtake it if it is safe to do so. Drive carefully, as there may well be uncleared snow on the road ahead. Remember, braking distances are increased by as much as 10 times in snow and ice, so leave a much larger gap to the vehicle in front.

Driving in snow and ice significantly increases stopping distances (Photo: Shutterstock)

Driving in gale force wind

You’ll need no reminding that high-sided vehicles are particularly affected by windy weather, but don’t forget that vulnerable road users such as cyclists, motorcyclists, and horse riders can be particularly affected by strong crosswinds on exposed roads. Keep a firm grip on the wheel, take your time, and give other vehicles more space.

Always have an emergency kit packed

It’s always best to have an emergency kit packed should you break down. Pack necessities such as extra clothes, blankets, umbrellas, water, food, and a torch, just in case you’re at standstill for a while. Also, ensure you have a warning triangle packed and place this at least 45 meters (147 feet) behind your vehicle on the same side of the road on the carriageway to help warn other road users.

Dan Hutson, head of motor insurance at comparethemarket.com which carried out the research, said: “Having a quick reaction time is key to being a responsible driver, and you need to be aware of the conditions around you and be able to respond to them in time. It’s interesting to see from our research that drivers have different reaction times depending on the weather condition, with fog and snow affecting them the most.

“The Highway Code sets out in its advice for driving in bad weather that you should make sure you’ve always got time to react to a potential hazard by keeping your distance from the car in front. Tailgating is illegal and shouldn’t be done in any weather condition, but you should always allow for bigger gaps between you and the car in front of you in more adverse weather conditions.

“It’s also important to carry out correct vehicle checks before setting off on a long journey and make frequent stops. Another tip is to have regular eye checks to ensure you meet the minimum eyesight standard for driving.”