The wInterview: Driving in a winter wonderland – part one

The snow was flying past our windows at Norfolk Winter HQ yesterday. While we rather like the thought of a Norfolk landscape covered in snow, with it comes difficult driving conditions and the risk of more road accidents.

A beautiful wintry scene near Tharston in south Norfolk, from a previous year. But pretty snow scenes mean difficult driving conditions.

A beautiful wintry scene near Tharston in south Norfolk, from a previous year. But pretty snow scenes mean difficult driving conditions.

But there are ways to minimise that risk. In the first of two wInterviews, Iain Temperton, Manager of Casualty Reduction, Education and Development at Norfolk County Council, told us how you can be a safer and more confident driver in ice and snow before you before you even take your handbrake off. You can also listen to this wInterview by using the audio players at the bottom of this blog post.

What should people do ahead of getting in their car?

Well before the journey starts, firstly make sure the car is ready for it. All through the year we would say make sure your tyres are okay and you have plenty of water in the washer bottle but that’s even more important in bad weather so make sure the car is completely serviced and that it doesn’t have any faults with it.

You need to consider things like: do all of your lights work? Do you have any cracks in the windscreen? Are your wiper blades okay? Basically, is the car ready to roll?

What do I need to take in my car with me before setting off?

Worst case scenario: you’re on the southern bypass and your car conks out. We don’t want you sat in the car on the hard shoulder because that’s the worst place you can be so you’re going to get out of the car and stand on the verge.

Are you going to be warm enough? Do you have the coat that you need? I know you might just be popping across the city but take a coat with you. Do you have a blanket in the car so you can wrap yourself in that, if you’re going to be stood there for half an hour?

What about being able to see out of the windscreen?

Before you start the actual journey itself, it’s worth making sure that you can see out of the car. As a motorcyclist I’m very aware of this that I see drivers who are essentially looking through a tiny porthole of vision.

I saw a driver only the other day coming out of a junction who was completely misted up on the side windows so that driver didn’t know I was there. So make sure you’ve completely demisted the car.

Make sure you’ve taken all the snow off the roof of the car, not just the windows. You can clear the windows and then the first time you stop, the snow comes off the roof of the car, covers the windscreen and you have to get rid of it all again, so completely clear the car inside and outside of the glass.

Driving with a build-up of snow on your bonnet and roof like this is potentially dangerous to you and other drivers, as it could suddenly dislodge at any time. Picture credit: Neil Watson

Driving with a build-up of snow on your bonnet and roof like this is potentially dangerous to you and other drivers, as it could suddenly dislodge at any time. Picture credit: Neil Watson

How can people keep informed about the conditions they’re likely to face?

Make sure that the weather’s going to be what you expect it to be. We all have the technology now – I have three different versions of the weather forecast on my phone.

We can all go onto the internet and check out the weather forecast, the roadworks and the gritting routes. The information’s there, it’s just about paying attention to it.

Can people get information from the County Council?

There are so many different ways that the County Council gets the information out there.

Obviously we run the info out through radio bulletins and so forth but we have numerous different Twitter feeds, we have two within the road safety team: one for the road safety page and the other for our Hugger motorcycle character.

All of our feeds talk about the gritting regularly, and in fact I just sat at my desk 20 minutes ago and put today’s gritting news out on the feeds on Twitter and Facebook so sign up to those feeds or just have a look at the County Council website, but yes the info is there.

If people are particularly nervous about driving in bad weather conditions like snow and ice, what can they do?

You need to be comfortable in the task that you’re doing so if you’re really not happy about making a particular journey then it’s advisable that you don’t make it. Sometimes we get to the stage where the authorities and the police will give out the guidance ‘don’t make the journey unless you have to’ and I’d listen to that.

A good friend of mine is really unhappy driving on ice and snow and I’d give people the same advice that I gave to her and that is: take some training.

For example we do skid avoidance training and it’s worth saying when you go out on the snow and on the ice, the car does not have to skid, it’s going to be something you do in the car that makes it skid. We can provide the training and give you the advice and information whereby you can make the journey from A to B if you have to and you won’t get into trouble because it’s all about what you do.

Essentially, make sure you’re prepared. If you haven’t had the training and you’re not comfortable, you can perhaps get someone else to drive or make the journey the next day.

What kind of courses do you run?

This shot on the A11 shows the kind of conditions we could be driving in over the next few months. Credit: Martin Pettitt

There’s a whole range. We do a specific course for young drivers because we’re not taught skid avoidance training when we learn to drive and we have a package for our younger drivers called Tread that includes the skid awareness training.

That only costs £25 and it’s a series of workshops which cover all sorts of issues, not just winter driving. There’s a skid session at the beginning and the end of that course and it’s a really good way of getting advice to young people. It fills in the gaps that we have when we can’t fully qualify drivers because the learner system doesn’t teach us everything.

We do specific courses for older drivers but in many cases older drivers don’t need to travel in these weather conditions, they can choose not to.

For any other driver out there, people who are driving to work, getting to family commitments or whatever it might be, we can provide driver training that will keep you out of trouble and will give you the confidence to tackle those weather conditions.

If you’ve got into a situation where you’re in trouble on the road and you can’t go any further, what do you do?

You can find yourself absolutely stuck because of flooding, snow, or when a tree falls into the road and your vehicle gets caught up in it. If things are that dire, don’t hesitate to call the emergency services. You don’t want to be stuck on a road somewhere hoping somebody comes along to dig you out.

Carry a mobile phone and if you know where you are that’s of huge benefit. Make sure you have your breakdown card with you so that if the vehicle just stops, you can phone up the AA, RAC, Green Flag or whoever to get you out.

But if you are absolutely stuck and you end up in a snow drift and think ‘I’m a danger to other road users’ or ‘potentially I’m at risk here’, phone the emergency services. They don’t mind that sort of call. They may not come out themselves and it may not be a police vehicle that turns up but they can dispatch a breakdown company to come and help you out. They have the contacts to get the right person to the right place.

To find out more about road safety and courses that are available to help people become safer drivers and motorcyclists, click here. You can email the Road Safety Team on, follow them on Twitter and like them on Facebook.

In the second part of the winter driving wInterview tomorrow, Iain will give us advice on how to drive as safely as possible in snow, ice and other difficult weather conditions.

Listen to our wInterview with Iain below


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