Driver Knowledge Tests

Learning to drive in winter: overcoming dangers

Even though the weather is worse in winter, it can actually be more beneficial to learn to drive then. As the days are getting shorter and the weather is closing in, should you wait to learn to drive, or hoe on into it?

If you’re just at the stage of doing your DKT or RKT, you can practise in the comfort of your own home on this website – click car, motorbike or truck in the menu above to choose which one. If you’re ready to get driving or riding, and the conditions are challenging, it’s really important you start with some lessons from a driving instructor so that they can help you identify all the risks, and can get you driving or riding with good habits right from the start. This article shows you how to choose an awesome driving instructor.

If you are starting out on a motorbike you will need to buy some decent protective clothing. No, it’s not cool to ride around in thongs and shorts, unless you want your legs to look like pizza topping if you come off. Check this article to see why falling off is bad without the right gear, this one for how to choose the right helmet, and this article for how to choose the right clothing.

Winter is a great opportunity for you to become a better rider or driver initially because the more challenging conditions require you to develop your skills to a higher level more quickly. As long as you have expert instruction and take care, you’ll be better off in the long run. But let’s first look at the types of risks that are more prevalent in winter.

Distracted pedestrians

In heavy rain, pedestrians will be using umbrellas which can restrict their view of the road. If they’re not using umbrellas they’re likely to be dashing across the road to avoid getting wet, in which case they might take risks. If you’re driving in a pedestrian-heavy zone, keep your speed a little lower so that you have more time to stop.

More disruption

Several factors cause more traffic disruption in winter. First is that rush hour is always worse in the dark. People drive more slowly. If it’s sunset or sunrise then there’s the added problem of sun dazzle, which we’ll get to soon.

Secondly, the roads are more slippery therefore there’s more chance of accidents occurring and this leads to congestion. Water, frost and ice on the road make it more difficult for you to stop. Mud gets dragged or washed onto the road. Your tyres will be colder, too. Motorcyclists should pay attention to large areas of paint on the roads, and to metal manhole covers which can be very slippery. Drivers who drive late and night or early in the morning might be exposed to frosts at certain altitudes.

Less light

It’s more likely to be overcast in winter and that means less light. This is bad for motorcyclists and cyclists who are less visible than other vehicles. Use dipped headlights to help illuminate signs and markings.

If you are borderline for needing glasses while driving, it can help to wear them in low light situations, even if you are not required to wear them.

Shaded corners and more leaf litter

Shaded corners can be wet icy, or have damp leaf litter which makes them treacherous. Add to this that if they are shaded, you won’t be able to see what’s coming as clearly.

More reflections

Dark bitumen is highly reflective when wet, and if the sun is low it can be blinding. Keep sunglasses in your vehicle.

If there are road works, it’s often easier to see where the old lines have been burned off rather than the new lines in the wet. This can be very confusing and cause you to drift into another vehicle’s lane.

Dirty windows

Sun strike can be severe in winter because the sun is lower for longer. If your windscreen isn’t clean, the sun’s rays will be diffracted all over the place by the dirt and will make it very difficult for you to see. If you then spray water on your window, this will create a brilliant, dazzling sheen for a few seconds while your wipers deal with it, rendering you possibly completely without vision of the road. Keep your windscreen clean, and your washer bottle topped up.

Standing water

After heavy rain, large puddles can form. Standing water like this can cause aquaplaning, and in extreme cases can cause you to spin because one side of the vehicle suffers a huge amount of sudden drag, while the other side doesn’t. Flash floods can also look just like the road surface if the light levels are low, just like what happened to this motorcyclist.

Learning to drive or ride in winter can certainly be more difficult, but with the right instruction you will learn the skills necessary to be a safe driver.

Darren is an expert on driving and transport, and is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists

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Posted in Advice, Car, Heavy Vehicle, Motorbike
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