Introduction

Perhaps not the most radio related subject to kick the year off with, nevertheless with Winter officially upon us we must anticipate, if previous years are anything to go by, the instantly debilitating effects of winter weather conditions.

The countries motoring organisations know from experience that the majority of travelling woes will occur at this time of year and have filled their websites with useful information. At their behest I have plundered these to bring you useful snippets of information. Naturally it is not possible for a club site such as this to be exhaustive on this topic and readers are encouraged to use this as a stepping off point rather than as a complete and definitive resource in its own right. The sites of the AA and RAC are a good starting point.

Preparation

Modern cars are very forgiving, they cocoon us from the elements and the environment enveloping us in an impervious shell and make us think that we are safe, secure and probably a better driver than we actually are.

There is no doubt that modern cars are as safe as modern technology can reasonably make them. Equipped with anti-lock brakes, traction control, and various other driver aids it is all too easy to assume that we can drive anywhere, anytime without considering the elements.

In the event of particularly poor weather conditions there really is no substitute for seriously asking yourself: “Do I really need to make this journey?”. Avoiding unnecessary journeys improves your safety and reduces the number of vehicles on the road making the conditions that little bit safer for those who have decided that their journey is really necessary.

If you have decided that your journey is really necessary then planning and preparation can help ensure that you arrive at your destination. The RAC video regarding vehicle preparation below goes over the key elements to check on your vehicle before setting off.

Having made sure your vehicle is ready for the road, carrying the correct equipment can be a significant asset should there be any problems en route.

This particular video is naturally aimed at the general public. To its list as Radio Amateurs I would add that we should consider carrying a transceiver of some description as a fall back in case of poor mobile phone coverage or cellular network outages.

And so car checked and equipped you’re ready for the off?

Similar advice, just to show no favouritism, is offered by the AA. This video is a little older and refers to 1.6mm minimum tread depth.

Under Way

Once underway it is important to respect the conditions. Allow plenty of time and distance to stop, remember your stopping distance could be as much as 8 times normal dry stopping distances. Drive smoothly with light gentle acceleration, smooth steering movements and easy braking actions. Use high gears and pull away in second rather than first. Remember, concentrate, anticipate and don’t panic.

Heavy Rain

Be safe, and prepare for wet weather:

Given our recent weather trends I suspect that we are all by now experts at driving in heavy rain and water logged conditions however to round the talk off.

  • Remember that according to the Highway Code: You MUST use headlights when visibility is seriously reduced, generally when you cannot see for more than 100 metres (328 feet).
  • Don’t use rear fog lights. They can mask your brake lights and dazzle drivers behind you
  • Give yourself the best chance of being able to see clearly in wet weather by renewing windscreen wipers if worn or damaged
  • Double the distance you leave between your car and the car in front of you, as stopping distances are increased by wet roads
  • If steering becomes unresponsive due to the rain, ease off the accelerator and slow down gradually

Floods and Standing Water

Only drive through water if you know that it’s not too deep. Drive slowly and steadily to avoid creating a bow wave. Allow oncoming traffic to pass first and test your brakes as soon as you can after leaving the water.

Don’t try driving through fast-moving water, such as at a flooded bridge approach – your car could easily be swept away.

Watch out for standing water, trying to avoid it if you can, and adjust your speed to the conditions.

  • Driving fast through standing water is dangerous; tyres lose contact with the road and you lose steering control in what’s known as ‘aquaplaning’. If you do experience aquaplaning, hold the steering wheel lightly and lift off the throttle until the tyres regain grip
  • Driving fast through standing water is inconsiderate. Driving through water at speeds above a slow crawl can result in water being thrown onto pavements, soaking pedestrians or cyclists. You could face a hefty fine and between three and nine penalty points if the police believe you were driving without reasonable consideration for other road users
  • Driving fast through standing water can cause expensive damage. The air intake on many cars is low down at the front of the engine bay and it only takes a small quantity of water sucked into the engine to cause serious damage. All engines are affected but turbo-charged and diesel engines are most vulnerable
  • Test your brakes after leaving flood water

As you drive slowly through standing water, use a low gear so the engine rev’s are higher; water in the exhaust could otherwise damage the catalytic converter.

If your engine cuts out after driving through deep water, do not attempt to restart as engine damage may occur – instead call for assistance and have the vehicle professionally examined.

If you break down in heavy rain don’t prop the bonnet open while you wait for the patrol to arrive. The engine will be more difficult to start again if the electrics are all rain-soaked.

Floodwater Facts

  • The majority of drowning deaths in the UK occur within only 3m of a safe point
  • ⅔ of those who die in flood-related accidents are considered to be good swimmers
  • 32% of flood-related deaths are by drowning in a vehicle
  • After 20 minutes in water at 12°C the temperature of the deep muscle of your forearm would drop from 37°C to 27°C, leading to a 30% reduction in muscle strength
  • In water 1m deep (waist high), flows of 1m/s become challenging and by 1.8m/s (4mph) everyone will be washed off their feet
  • If the speed of the flood water doubles the force it exerts on you/your car is quadrupled
  • Just six inches of fast flowing water can knock you off your feet and be enough for you to be unable to regain your footing
  • Two feet of standing water will float your car
  • Just one foot of flowing water could be enough to move the average family car
  • Just an egg cupful of water in the combustion chamber could be enough to wreck an engine
  • Flood water can be contaminated and carry diseases
  • Culverts are dangerous when flooded – the siphon effect of culverts can drag in pets, children and even fully grown adults