INTO WINTER, TIME FOR COMMON SENSE DRIVING
by Brian Byrne, Publisher of Irish Car+Travel magazine, carandtravel.ie.
The time has shifted, and suddenly we're not just driving into the winter months, it actually feels like it. Looks like it in the golden leaf colours. Sounds like it as our tyres swish through fallen leaves. Smells like it as people start lighting the more than occasional fire. So rather than go on the car review trail this week, I'm writing about keeping safe on the road in what are more difficult conditions, bound to get worse.
That extra darkness in the evening. Even if you're on the commute in reasonably lit areas, there's something different about it. Not least the pedestrians and cyclists. You'd hope that they're wearing hi-viz, but not all do. And now they're bundled up in winter clothes, dark, less skin and summer bright clothes for you to see. Muffled up in hats, caps, scarves, their own ability to watch out for traffic is impaired too.
So stay back. Leave larger gaps. Watch those mirrors as well, all the time. Out in the country dark, be particularly careful about what might be around the next corner. Personal rule, I take it easy, get home easy.
Can you be seen? We're supposed to be on the way out of recession, but the numbers of cars missing a rear light, or even a headlight on main or dipped beam, are still downright scary. Checking your lights is not something for NCT time, it's an every week thing. Or should be. Personal rule, I'm responsible for my own safety. And for the safety of those around me when I'm driving a ton and a half of metal in their vicinity.
We've had some early fog already. A harbinger of more diminished visibility conditions to come. You know your fog-lights? The lights many of you use when you're not supposed to, but too many don't use when they should? Personal rule, I learn the switches, and use the lights the way they were designed to be.
Slow down in the grey. Already I'm seeing drivers pass me at full tilt in fog, just because they're on a motorway and figure they're not going to meet anything oncoming. Until they're moving up too fast on a slower vehicle in the overtaking lane. Then they can become the vector for a multiple pile-up, possibly with fatalities, certainly with injuries. Personal rule, if I can't see beyond the car in front, I ask myself do I really need to overtake? And if I have to, I'm very conscious that there's possibly a full-tilt guy coming up behind me as I do.
Those leaves that have been falling. We hadn't much rain for the last month, but a couple of days last week changed that. Rain and leaves don't mix well with hard braking, so particularly on those tree-lined rural roads, drive so that you hopefully won't have to stop very quickly.
Which won't matter much if your tyres aren't up to winter scratch. There's a report in preparation by the RSA which is going to scare the hell out of us, about the real impact that tyre condition is having on our accident rate. I don't have the actual details yet, but I do know — because I've had multiple opportunities to test worn tyres performance in closed safe conditions — that the minimum legal 1.6mm tread depth isn't worth buttons in anything beyond a totally dry road. Just because your car passed its NCT doesn't mean you're on safe rubber. Personal rule, if I truly love my loved ones, I make sure my tyres are fit for purpose, not just street legal. And I never buy used tyres.
We haven't had ice yet. And most of recent years we haven't had much in icy roads. But it happens. All of the above driving careful comments will apply when that comes around. But I'll come back to it later in the winter.
Meantime, be sensible, then you'll be more safe. As will all of us sharing the road with you.