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Why are winter driving conditions more dangerous?

Driving during the winter season can be more challenging than at any other time of the year, as weather conditions can change drastically over the course of a single day.

The combination of changing weather, reduced daylight and the increased risk of fatigue kicking in during the pre and post-work commute (for those who are travelling to work) unfortunately often leads to an increase in incidents on Irish roads at this time of year.

A few small changes to your driving behaviour can go a long way towards keeping our roads safe.

1. Be Alert to the Risk of Fatigue

While fatigue is an issue for drivers all year round, the winter season brings with it a heightened risk as we often find ourselves doing most of our driving in darkness. This combined with the additional commitments you may be juggling in the months ahead can lead to your concentration slipping while you’re behind the wheel.

2. What to do when you’re driving fatigued

If you find this happening the best option is to pull in somewhere safe and take a 10 to 15 minute break from driving, ideally getting a coffee if you have the option to do so.

3. Plan your winter Journey in Advance

During the winter season your car may take a little longer to get started in the morning – so plan ahead and get up at least 10 minutes early to give you time to prepare the car.

Far too often we all encounter motorists driving around during the winter season with only a small gap cleared in their windscreen – don’t be one of these people. Only begin your commute when the windscreen is fully clear, using a scraper and de-icer if necessary.

Most importantly, remember to prioritise your own safety and that of other road users ahead of punctuality in the months ahead – especially if the weather worsens.

4. Allow extra time for any winter journeys

During the coming months allow extra time for any journey you are taking, particularly those either early in the morning or late at night, but also accept that you may find yourself running late on a few occasions due to an unexpected delay on the roads.

Never drive in a reckless manner or without adequately clearing your windscreen, windows and mirrors just for the sake of starting your journey a few minutes earlier.

5. Be prepared for driving in snow and ice

Over the next few weeks and months we’re likely to encounter snow, high winds, heavy rainfall and every kind of weather condition in between. The best advice is to slow down and use gentle manoeuvres when driving to stay safe and to adapt your driving to the weather on the day. For example, stopping distances are 10 times longer in ice and snow.

6. Uphill driving in winter conditions

If you find yourself driving on snowy or icy roads, then remember to use a low gear when driving uphill and leave plenty of distance between you and the car in front of you. If driving down a slope then reduce your speed before you reach the hill, use a low gear and try to avoid any sudden braking.

7. What to wear when driving in winter road conditions

No, this isn’t about making sure you’re warm in your car, but about making sure that you have the right footwear for driving. During the course of your day, the shoes you wore to work could become wet from rain or snow, potentially increasing the risk that they could slip off the pedals of your car. Having a pair of flat shoes which you keep in your car and only use for driving could also go a long way towards staying safe on the roads.

8. Watch Out for Breakdowns and Vulnerable Road Users

While the number of pedestrians and cyclists may drop slightly during the winter months, especially if weather conditions worsen significantly, it’s important that you remain on the lookout for these vulnerable road users while driving and allow extra space when overtaking. For example, during high winds a cyclist of pedestrian could easily be blown off course so exercising additional caution is vital.

9. What to do when encountering a winter break down

Similarly, you are more likely to encounter a broken down car during the course of your driving over the coming months. While there are some things you can do to avoid your own car breaking down, if the road ahead is partially blocked by a breakdown slow down, only overtake when it is safe to do so, and use your hazard warning lights to alert cars behind you to the obstruction.

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