From the scorching highs of the African plume to the alarming prospect of thundersnow, weather in the UK has never been more extreme. In fact, you can’t Google ‘what’s the weather today?’ without stumbling on the next meteorological event that’s predicted to ravage your home town. The Met Office has even taken to naming storms to help everyone keep track. Driving in heavy rain and windy conditions is always a risk, but if you do have to venture outdoors when the next Storm Ciara, Dennis or erm… Eric hits, these top tips can help you stay safe on the road.
Before you set off, check all your car’s wipers are working well, you’ve topped up your screen wash and your aircon’s set to demist (interior glass can fog up quickly during a sudden downpour). Remember that your windscreen wipers are your only way of seeing the road ahead in wet conditions. They can clear stray leaves and other debris that blows into your line of vision, as well as the mucky spray thrown up by vehicles around you. If your wiper blades are juddering or squeaking, you should have them checked and changed before you drive. Not only is it really dangerous to drive with faulty wiper blades, it can also be really expensive; you’ll be charged a £50 fixed penalty notice if you’re spotted by police.
It should be obvious to anyone who’s passed their driving test, but it bears repeating: when you’re driving in wet conditions or in rain, your stopping distance will be at least double that of dry conditions. And if there’s any chance of surface water on the road freezing, your stopping distance can be ten times higher than that of a dry road. The lesson? There’s no such thing as too safe a gap. If you’re driving behind another vehicle in wet conditions, drop back and lower your speed. It’ll give you a clearer view of the road ahead and prevent your windscreen becoming covered in muck. Plus, the driver in front will appreciate having some distance behind them.
According to the RAC, the number of breakdowns increases during wet weather, partly because wet weather can damage your car’s engine and electrics. If you are heading out under a raincloud, it’s only sensible to be prepared. Make sure your phone is fully charged and tune into your local radio station to listen out for delays and updates. You should have a high-visibility jacket and triangle in your boot in case you do get stranded at the side of the road, and it doesn’t hurt to have a blanket, some emergency snacks and a torch to hand. If you do find yourself stuck on the hard shoulder in a storm, try to avoid opening the bonnet – if your engine gets wet it could do more damage. Better to wait for help to arrive.
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On the topic of preparation, make sure your tyres are ready for wet conditions if you’re setting out in a storm. You’ll want to check the tread depth is at least 1.6mm and you’ve inflated them to manufacturer recommendations (the exact psi should be in your handbook). If you’re planning on doing a lot of driving in the rain (UK residents read: a lot of driving) it could be worthwhile to invest in all-season or winter tyres, which can help with traction, grip, braking and even lessen your chances of hydroplaning if you hit a patch of surface water.
If it starts blowing a gale when you’re out on the road, you should be extra cautious with your driving style, especially at high speeds. Watch out for high-sided vehicles or horseboxes, caravans and trailers, which can veer off-course wildly with particularly strong gusts of wind. If you’re overtaking in high winds or travelling in a flat, exposed area or over a bridge, keep a really firm grip on the wheel; sometimes even small, low cars can be hit with a nasty blast that knocks them off course.
Remember, always check the weather and conditions before you depart and never start your journey if it's not safe to drive.