Driving tests

Learning to drive in winter – what you should be wary of

While it’s a bit more challenging to learn to drive or ride in winter, there are advantages to it. We’re fast approaching the shortest day, and there’s going to be more rain and possibly ice or snow (depending on where you are), so should you defer it a few months, or get cracking?

You can, of course, learn the Road Code on this website in the comfort of your own home, but once you need to get out and practise, the weather can make the process particularly unpleasant, especially for motorcyclists who are exposed to the elements (good protective clothing is essential).

First things first: if you are starting to drive in winter it is even more important that you get lessons with a qualified driving instructor (here’s how to choose a driving instructor). You have this golden opportunity to become a much better driver through learning in winter because the conditions are more challenging, light levels are lower and you will need much better observation and judgement skills.  Let’s look at common situations you will encounter and what you can do to lower your risks.

Dirty windows

With the roads being wetter your vehicle will be subject to more spray and that means dirtier windows. Dirty windows can cause huge problems when the sun is low, i.e. you have sun strike or sun dazzle, because the sun is diffracted by the dirt particles. Keep your washer bottle topped up as you are more likely to use it.

If you find that your windows are iced up in the morning, use cold water to thaw them as hot water can crack the glass with the rapid change in temperature.

Shaded corners

This is an absolute must for motorcyclists to watch out for. Where the sun doesn’t melt the frost or dry the road on a shaded corner, it could be extremely slippery. Wet leaves contribute to this, too. Be careful when riding or driving in areas with a lot of leaf fall. Look for telltale shadows ahead on the road.

More reflections

The roads will be wet and icy for longer, while the sun will be lower for long. On certain types of tarmac this can create problems with reflections and make it difficult for you to see lane markings. Take extra care where there have been road works as when it’s wet it’s often the old lines that have been burned off which are the most visible.

Less light

With a later sunrise and an earlier sunset, there’s less light daylight overall. This can lengthen rush hour. It’s also more likely to be overcast which reduces the overall light making it harder to see motorcyclists and cyclists, and dark-coloured cars. Using dipped headlights can help, and will also help illuminate road signs ahead.

If you are on the borderline for needing glasses when driving, it can help to wear them when the light is lower.

More accidents

Bad weather brings more risk of accidents which can create traffic chaos which makes it difficult for you, and for your driving instructor to maintain a schedule. It also increases your risk of having an accident. The slippery, colder conditions lead to longer stopping distances because the friction on the road is less, your tyres are likely not as warm, and there’s sometimes the risk of water on your brake disks. Motorcyclists should be aware of metal service covers and manhole covers on the road. Truck drivers on shift work need to be aware of freezing temperatures in the middle of the night or early in the morning.

Hurried pedestrians

If it’s raining look for pedestrians rushing to cross roads where they might be visually obstructed by their umbrella (or someone else’s umbrella). In heavy rain, pedestrians are more likely to take a chance running across the road.

Winter offers a more challenging and more varied driving experience. Weather extremes can make it challenging, but it’s also the opportunity for you to be thrown in at the deep end with a competent teacher to help you grapple with those additional difficulties. Ultimately this should make you a better driver or rider if you take care and take advice.

Puncture risk

You are slightly more at risk of having a puncture in winter because the kind of debris that would enter your tyre is lubricated by the wet weather, so can cut or piece it more easily. Avoid driving on the shoulder of the road as that’s where most of the debris is.

Flooding

In overcast weather, flooding ahead can just look like the road itself. Check out this video to see how easy it is to be caught out.

driver training

Darren is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists and the NZ Motoring Writers' Guild

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Posted in Advice, Car, Heavy Vehicle, Motorbike
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