Just like the Starks say, winter is coming – or rather, it has already come, and it's time to start seriously considering how it should affect your driving in Aotearoa. Here are just three conditions that anyone with a fuel card should know how to travel through.
This winter has seen some seriously wet weather, with the Bay of Plenty even seeing enough flooding to warrant the Police sending out a warning. Other than keeping your speed down, your headlights bright and your following distances long, what else can you do in wet weather to remain safe?
With standing water, such as that which settles on roads, there is the risk of aqua-planing: where your car begins to glide across the surface of the water, much like a speedboat on the ocean. As such, if you see a particularly bad puddle of water, ensure that you travel through it slowly. Large patches of water should be avoided entirely.
Never try to drive through water that is more than 10cm high – doing so could end up with water making its way into your engine, resulting in a broken-down car. Keep a GPS with you or a map and find an alternative route if you find yourself having to deal with flooding this winter.
Much like wet conditions, cold conditions should result in you deciding to drive slower than usual. Even those in a four wheel drive are at risk of suffering from these poor road conditions.
The main thing to watch out for during cold conditions is the ever-present danger of ice, or black ice, on the road ahead. Particularly worrisome on the hilly roads of New Zealand, black ice can send even the most experienced of drivers spinning out of control if they are going too fast. Keep an eye out for your vehicle starting to swerve or fishtail – this is a sign that you are going too fast.
Furthermore, if you do notice an issue, remember to correct slowly. Fast changes will destroy your handling on an icy road, and the same goes for braking too quickly too. Smooth and steady is the aim of the game on an icy road, and make sure you keep an eye out for others on the verge of losing control too. Multiple car pileups are very common in winter due to people losing control, other drivers having to quickly adjust to avoid them and skidding themselves – often all on the same patch of ice.
Being able to drive effectively in the dark becomes all the more important during winter, as we start to get shorter days and longer nights. Spotting the cold and wet conditions mentioned earlier becomes tougher, as do all the other hazards that come with regular driving – but now you have to do it in low-light conditions.
To drive effectively at night, it's all about making use of the light that you do have. Take the time to make sure your headlights are aimed properly (yes, they can be adjusted and yes, they are often incorrect when you first buy them). Go over your windshield with a piece of newspaper to eliminate water streaks that bounce glare into your eyes. Dim the interior lights so that your view of the outside becomes more clear. And more than anything else, ensure that all the lights of your car (rear brakelights in particular) are bright and functioning.
It isn't just you that utilises your lights – it is other drivers too. At night, every driver needs to watch out for one another (literally), so don't put off making sure your night driving is up to scratch.
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