Although South Africa’s winters are relatively mild, it’s worth sharpening your driving skills to combat any poor weather conditions. This is very important in the rainy Western Cape, KZN regions, and the misty lowveld. You should also prepare your vehicle for the cold months ahead and take safety precautions when you go on long journeys, explains Ary Coetzee, *Bridgestone SA’s Technical & Product Specialist.
Braking in Winter
Don’t speed off on your journeys in winter without allowing your brakes to warm up. Under these conditions your brakes may not engage correctly and accidents could result.
In rain, or in the rare event of snow or ice, avoid locking your brakes by using the ball of your foot to apply steady pressure to the brake pedal.
If you have an anti-lock braking system (ABS) do not pump the brakes, instead apply steady pressure to them. You will feel the brakes pulse - this is normal. Consider ABS when buying a new car for extra safety.
Check your brakes regularly in winter to ensure they work efficiently in cold, icy, or wet conditions. Although you need to take extra care in winter, should your brakes ever emit unusual smells or noises, check them immediately for problems.
Read more: The Role of Brakes in Stopping Distances
Using a Safe Following Distance
Take extra precautions in the more perilous winter conditions. While wind reduces steering control, rain can get into brakes causing them to weaken. Applying brakes under these conditions may cause vehicles to skid or hydroplane and collide with other cars; while vehicles towing trailers can jack-knife.
Poor driving conditions can be mitigated by maintaining a safe following distance between yourself and the vehicle ahead of you. Although this should generally be at least two seconds, increase to five or six seconds during bad winter weather. This will enable you to stop or slow down without causing rear-end crashes, the result of which could result in injury, vehicle damage and thus steep motor vehicle insurance for many South Africans.
Read more: How Driving Habits Can Cause Accidents
Always ensure clear visibility when driving. Clean windscreens frosted overnight by scraping off ice and wiping with a cloth before you drive. If your windscreen fogs up, demist it before driving off. Always make sure you can see and communicate with other drivers clearly
If you drive a new generation car, it would most likely be designed to suit the European weather and legal systems. This car would be fitted with LED lights and sensors, enabling it to optimise lighting solutions. If your car is older you would need to adjust the lights manually according to visibility, for example, turning lights on an hour before sunset and an hour after sunrise.
The information issued by the Department of Transport in South Africa indicates when most accidents occur on our roads. Dawn and dusk are dangerous hours, making it crucial to ensure visibility between these hours.
ACCIDENT STATISTICS: PERCENTAGE OF FATALITIES AT TIME OF DAY
The graph below, with information prepared by the Department of Transport shows that accidents most commonly caused by road and environmental factors are slippery surfaces, sharp bends, and visibility. Many of these accidents can be avoided by ensuring a safe following distance and clear visibility where you can see the path ahead of you as well as other vehicles.
ACCIDENTS CAUSED BY ROAD & ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS
Maintain Your Vehicle in Winter
Keep your vehicle in excellent driving condition in winter by checking your brakes, windscreen wipers, defrosters and radiators. Check your tyres for damage and ensure the tread is above the tread wear indication minimum of 1.6mm. By regularly checking your tyres you can prevent most tyre related accidents.
Thirty years ago, and more, drivers needed to be hands-on when preparing their cars for winter. Today you simply need to take your vehicle for servicing as service stations check your car for winter readiness, including anti-freeze and windscreen wiper fluid levels. Many motorists only look under the bonnet when problems arise. Follow good practice and double check oil and water levels.
Prepare for Long Journeys
If you are going on a long journey take extra precautions to ensure your safety in event of a breakdown:
- Keep a bundle of cold-weather gear in your car including extra food, water, warm clothes, blankets and medication.
- Ensure your tyres are properly inflated.
- Do not use cruise control when driving on a slippery surface like ice.
- Never warm up your car in an enclosed area like a garage as this could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Careful drivers who give themselves enough time for their journeys, service their cars regularly, and prepare for long trips should be able to drive safely during this chilly season.
Before going on a journey in winter, check the weather forecast. If the weather conditions are poor with heavy mist or rain, rather postpone your trip if possible.
*Supa Quick is a wholly owned subsidiary of Bridgestone South Africa PTY LTD.
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