Severe weather: Did driving jangle your nerves?

IF the thought of driving in the recent severe weather jangled your nerves, you were not alone. We asked the Devon Drivers Centre to pass on some tips...

IF the thought of driving in the recent severe weather jangled your nerves, you were not alone.

Terrified drivers complained to the Herald about everything from lack of gritting to worries about getting to work.

We asked the Devon Drivers' Centre to pass on some advice - to help you, if a second cold snap strikes, as predicted, next month...

ALTHOUGH snow and ice are the headline grabbers, winter presents a series of challenges to all drivers - from standing water to fog.

Modern cars are not designed to be driven in real extremes, such as the recent heavy snow, and driving instructor Mike Hull, who has worked at the Devon Drivers' Centre for 14 years, says extra precautions and care should be taken.

He was one of those to head the Devon County Council-run centre's recent winter driving programme, which offered motorists a free hour-long training session.

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Originally planned to take place over a week, the programme was extended to cover a further week, because it was oversubscribed.

The course is still available - but at a price of �28.50.

"During the hour we are able to talk about the hazards of winter driving and undertake practical driving at the same time," he said.

"We tend to use the A377, taking in country lanes in areas such as Lapford.

"The programme covers topics such as standing water and rain, how the wind can be a hazard, darkness and, the one that gets the headlines, snow and ice."

Mr Hull said people think they know what the hazards are and that, in general, they do.

But do all motorists regularly clean the inside of their windscreens?

l A build up of moisture and pollen on the inside of car windows can lead to a film of grime that can fluoresce at night, severely reducing visibility.

l When the weather is windy, pedestrians may not be able to hear modern cars approach, because their engines are relatively quiet, meaning it is important extra care is taken when driving.

l Did you know that modern cars can be severely damaged by standing water? They can draw water up from the air intake, meaning engines can end up badly damaged.

l When it comes to driving in snow and ice, Mr Hull says people have to ask themselves: "Is the journey essential?"

"Some journeys are essential, but people need to be equipped before they go out," he said.

"Take warm clothing, a drink (if possible a flask), something to eat and a fully charged mobile phone.

"There is a second tier of essentials that could be of benefit - a shovel and a blanket."

So, if a journey is essential, how should motorists drive in icy conditions?

Mr Hull said: "Use second or third gear to pull away. It may give the tyres more traction. If you use first gear, you are more likely to encounter a wheel spin.

"Drive really slowly, because the vehicle may not have enough grip to slow down.

"Try to avoid braking. You can, however, use the brakes to keep the vehicle at 10mph - but not to go from 40mph to 10mph.

"Be gentle. Use gentle steering, high gears and lower speeds. Try to stay on main roads and avoid steep hills."

On the topic of winter driving in general, Mr Hull said: "Just expect the unexpected and make allowances for other people."

The Devon Drivers' Centre offers a range of courses to suit all needs - from the Drive Safer for Longer initiative, which is aimed at more mature drivers, to skid prevention and control, and a special course, offered through the Road User Support Service, which rehabilitates people who may have suffered trauma as a result of a road traffic accident.

To find out more about the Devon Drivers' Centre, telephone (01392) 444773 or visit