Winter driving safety tips

Drivers face various conditions on Irish roads that change with the seasons. Winter driving naturally brings a unique set of challenges that every driver should be prepared for. October to January are typically the wettest months in Ireland, and motorists should be aware that tyres will naturally have less traction in wet conditions. 

Stopping distances are generally worked out by adding the thinking distance and the braking distance, which can vary depending on the road conditions and the condition of the car. When driving at 100km/h, total stopping distance is around 75 metres, but in wet weather this can double to 150m. Here’s what to look out for and how to prepare for driving in wet weather. Make sure to also check out our guide to driving in storms.

Monitor tyre tread

Not only do stopping distances double in the wet, but threadbare tyres will grip the road even less, meaning greater distances before drivers can safely stop their vehicles. Tyre tread can easily harden in cold weather, which can lead to further loss of control. Be sure to check for tyre wear across the entirety of the thread pattern. If you’re unsure, take your car to your nearest tyre supplier. 

Roadworthy tyres not only help avoid the human and financial costs of collisions, but also save you money on fuel economy. NiftiBusiness customers in particular can make significant savings to the running costs of their fleet of vehicles by ensuring the tyres on those vehicles are correctly inflated. An under-inflated tyre creates more rolling resistance, meaning it takes more energy and therefore more fuel to drive the vehicle. 

The Irish Tyre Industry Association estimates that tyres under-inflated by 20% can add €17 per month to fuel costs. For a company’s fleet of 20 vehicles, under-inflated tyres could add over €4,000 to the business’ annual fuel costs. In addition to fuel efficiency, under-inflation of tyres can also negatively impact grip handling and braking performance, increasing the risk of a crash, as well as the wear and lifespan of the tyre.

Check brake condition

If you’re noticing a delay in the car slowing after pressing the brake pedal, there’s a high chance that the car has worn brake pads or the brakes have developed a fault. In the wet, it’s crucial that the brakes work as they should, otherwise already large stopping distances will further increase.

Keep a safe distance from other vehicles

One good guide to follow is the two-second rule in the dry, which involves picking a stationary object by the side of the road and counting the seconds between the car in front passing the object and you passing it. In the dry, two seconds is the minimum time recommended. In the wet, this increases to four seconds. If you are within four seconds in the wet, then give yourself more space to brake safely. It can be particularly uncomfortable and distracting for the driver in front also if you drive too close to them. 

Be aware of grip

Wet conditions means less grip on the road and require a different driving style. Driving at slower speeds and braking in a controlled way will help keep the car balanced in the wet and you in control. It’s also best to not press too hard on the accelerator to prevent the likelihood of the car losing traction. This also keeps the wheels from spinning on the wet tarmac or line markings, which offer less grip. Modern traction control systems offer excellent stability, but loss of grip is still possible. 

Check your lights 

One of the most important checks to make is ensuring your headlights are in full working order. During the darker months, having faulty lights can make it more difficult to calculate a safe stopping distance to the car in front. Most modern cars have a dash light fault indicator which glows when a bulb is blown – do not ignore this. Determine which light is gone, and have it fixed as soon as possible. It’s also worth cleaning your lights with a damp cloth to ensure decent visibility. 

Familiarise yourself with emergency tools

As well as checking tyres and wipers ahead of winter driving, it’s important to check the condition of your spare wheel, if you have one. Check that any emergency tools, which came with the car, are still in working condition. Take out the spare or puncture repair kit to familiarise yourself with how to use them on a clear day. Roadside panic can set in fast if you do happen to break down or experience a puncture in a remote area. 

Stay alert and rest when needed

With the weather getting darker earlier during the autumn months, driving requires greater levels of concentration and can be more draining. It’s important to regularly rest at service areas to keep energised while driving.  Tiredness can increase the chances of an accident due to delayed reaction times. 

Keep your windscreen clean and smear-free to avoid potentially blinding glare from the headlights of other motorists. By looking after yourself, you are automatically looking after others by always having your wits about you. 

Obey the rules of the road

Following the speed limit and using your indicators is not only useful to other drivers, but vital for protecting both yourself and others. Speeding can lead to harmful mistakes or cause accidents, while using your indicators allows others to better predict your next move and drive accordingly. Similarly, following traffic rules, such as our new variable speed limits telling you to slow down on the motorway, can help you safely avoid problems.

Plan your journey

Before you set out, check the weather forecast, but be prepared for changing conditions. When you’re on the road, reduce your speed and allow significantly more time to complete your journey when adverse conditions kick in. If it’s snowing heavily, ensure your headlights and number plates stay clear of snow, and if you’re on a long drive, pull over regularly for short breaks. Of course, if the snow and ice does hit this winter, it’s much safer to stay home when possible.

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