AS I write this piece, winter has just made a very rude and abrupt entrance with overnight temperatures dropping to below five degrees and a cold wind adding to the chill factor.
Here are some tips to make sure that driving in this cold season does not become an experience fraught with danger.
As is the norm, make sure that your car is serviced regularly as per the manufacturer’s specifications. This is more so, if your vehicle is out of warranty.
When talking to your mechanic, ask him to look at things like the battery, anti-freeze/ coolant, the radiator, damaged hoses, wiper blades, heater/ defroster, all electrical components, all lights or any other problem that could result in a nasty experience. Experiencing a breakdown is bad enough, it’s much worse in winter.
Regardless of the season, all tyres should be checked regularly, including the spare tyre. Also make sure that the spare, jack and wheel spanner are in place.
As the outside temperature drops so does the tyre inflation pressure. Check inflation every time you refuel or at least once a week and when the tyres are cold. Check the tyres for damage, look closely at tread depth and also the age of the tyres.
It is always a good idea to study a vehicle’s handbook before driving it. Many unsafe and unnecessary inconveniences could be avoided if drivers just familiarised themselves with their vehicles’ operational requirements.
Keep a rudimentary toolbox with at least some basic tools that could assist in getting you out of a fix. The tool box could also include a tow rope, torch with batteries that are working, insulation or duct tape, warning triangles, puncture repair kit, battery charging cables and the like.
It’s always advisable to include a cheap reflective vest and a simple first-aid kit to be used in emergencies.
When getting into the car, don’t just start the car and drive off. Follow what is referred to in advanced defensive driving as a safety protocol. Much like an aircraft pilot, get in, lock the doors, buckle up, adjust your seat, the mirrors, start the ignition, check all the warning lights, ensure you are familiar with the heater/ defroster operations, observe carefully before moving off.
On the road, travel at lower speeds, ensuring that maximum visibility is attained at all times through all the windows and interior and exterior mirrors. If visibility is poor, that is, less than 100 metres, switch on your headlamps on dipped beam mode.
Remember, park lights are just for that: parking. Do not drive around with park lights, and it is illegal to drive with fog lamps in the absence of fog, snow, smog, mist and/ or heavy smoke. Spotlights and LED lights fitted to the roof of a vehicle can blind oncoming drivers and are thus outlawed, too.
In winter and especially when the road is covered by a thin layer of sleet or when driving past a veld fire, increase your following distance to four or more seconds. This will allow for better reaction times and longer stopping distances.
Most modern cars come with electronic stability programmes or anti-locking brakes as standard but if you drive an older vehicle without these features you need to be extra careful.
Remember, in winter, the sun sets early, sometimes around 17h30 in most provinces. Be aware that many pedestrians are still negotiating their way home using various modes of public transport, and are often dressed in dark, winter clothing, making them invisible and extremely vulnerable.
This explains why more pedestrians are killed during the winter months of June, July and August than during Easter or the festive periods. So, please, take extra care when driving around taxi ranks, bus depots or any high pedestrian density areas.
On major arterial routes, be particularly cautious when driving through informal settlements, especially those that line freeways. Drop speed significantly and also watch for stray animals who sometimes have a tendency to sit on tar roads to warm themselves.
Plan your long journeys carefully by checking weather forecasts and traffic reports that may alert you to any impending danger. Don’t rush, and allow plenty of time for any hazards that may cause a delay.
If road and/ or weather conditions become hazardous, pull over at a safe spot and wait for conditions to improve before continuing your journey.