Advice for driving in stormy weather

Last month’s Storm Arwen caused road casualties due to fallen trees. Blizzards left people trapped in remote areas and many roads were impassable due to snow drifts and fallen power lines.

How to protect yourself in stormy weather

  • First, ask yourself whether your journey is necessary – only travel if there is no other option.
  • Motorcyclists especially should avoid travelling in storms, as high cross winds can affect the handling of the motorcycle.
  • If conditions get too severe, pull over where it is safe and legal, phone a family member or friend and let them know that you have stopped. Make sure you have essentials in your vehicle, such as warm clothes, a blanket, food, and water, a fully charged phone, and a torch.
  • Hailstorms can be extremely dangerous to drive in reducing your ability to see and be seen, as well as causing damage to your vehicle. If hail is severe, stop and pull over to a safe place and remain inside the vehicle

If your journey is essential, take the following precautions:

Watch your speed

Strong winds are not constant; they’re usually gusty and can catch you off guard. Slowing down will help you anticipate gusts and reduce the impact they have on your driving.

Maintain a firm grasp on the wheel so that you have as much control over the wheel as possible.

Be aware of exposed areas

Pay attention to areas of the road which are more exposed.

Research if there is a route with less exposure to the weather. Let people know the route you're travelling in case you get stuck in an area with poor mobile reception.

Be cautious overtaking

Do not attempt to overtake unless you are certain it is safe. Driving past large vehicles can result in a sudden gust from the side as you clear, so be prepared for this change in how the vehicle may respond.

Give cyclists, motorcyclists, lorries, and buses more space than usual. They get blown around easily by side winds.

Stay informed

Listen to local news to keep up to date with road closures and the weather forecast.

Avoid hazardous situations

Avoid parking under trees, near buildings, telephone lines or other structures that could represent a falling-danger in severe winds.

In high winds, avoid crossing high exposed bridges and maintain distance from vehicles towing caravans. Be aware that there will be more debris on the road.

Driving in a thunderstorm

If you are caught in thunder and lightning it’s advised that you wind up the windows and stay inside your car. This is because in most cars with a metal roof and frame, the frame will act as a conductive Faraday cage, passing the current around the passengers inside and on to the ground.

  • Cars can be damaged both internally and externally by lightning strikes. Soft-top convertibles, with their fabric roofs, are the most at risk and could catch fire if struck by lightning.
  • Be aware that current can travel through other parts of many modern cars, including GPS and radio systems. Cars with metal interior handles, foot pedals and steering wheels can also carry current.

Be ‘snow ready’

The RAC recommend that you drive ‘snow ready’ in winter:

  • Good tyre tread is essential in snowy and icy conditions to give the maximum possible grip and leaving up to 10 times the gap between you and the car in front is essential to give sufficient stopping time.
  • It is also vital that motorists top up with a good quality screenwash which protects down to around at least -15C. Thousands of drivers use poor quality, ready-made screenwash which freezes - giving them no way of keeping their windscreens clear.
  • Your winter emergency breakdown kit should include an ice scraper, a shovel, and some old carpet, as it gives you a chance of getting the vehicle going again if stuck in snow.

Festive flat battery blues

The first day back after the Christmas and New Year break is traditionally the biggest breakdown day of the year for the RAC as thousands of cars have been left unused over the holiday period. People who have vehicles with older batteries are likely to be at greater risk of a ‘New Year non-start’ as the cold damp weather and long periods of inactivity are the perfect combination to drain batteries.

RAC patrol Ben Aldous recommends that drivers take their cars for a good run over the holiday period, perhaps to fill up with fuel.

“For those going back to work that Monday it would be advisable to make sure any cars that haven’t been used for several days start on New Year’s Day.

“That way, they will have plenty of time to sort the problem or call us out to help before the Monday morning rush gets underway.

“Experience tells us that it is often families with two or more vehicles that suffer most from flat batteries on the return to work after Christmas and New Year as they tend only to drive one over the festive period.

“At this time of year vehicles’ electrical systems have to work a lot harder because of needing to use lights and heated windows. The starter motor also has to work harder to turn over the engine on colder mornings, making a battery failure more likely.”