It's cold, dark and wet, and everyone just wants to get "there" as quickly as possible.
I think the above statement sums up a typical winter afternoon/evening quite well. It also hints at some of the problems ahead, for drivers, riders, and walkers alike.
Cold and wet weather can very easily produce condensation in vehicles and a rider's helmet visor. It produces the perfect conditions for pedestrians to start hurrying, with their hoods up, and umbrellas and eyes down; hardly conditions to encourage good levels of awareness! According to the Highway Code, wet roads can double the stopping distance of a vehicle, due to reduced grip
between tyres and road. The wet leaves lying on the road are not going to help that grip either, if it is very cold, there may also be ice forming, or still lying around from early morning.
When people are in a hurry, they are normally prepared to take risks. Maybe they think they can hurry across the road in a gap that they would not normally even consider as being suitable. Maybe, if they are looking at the oncoming headlights, they do not notice the cyclist coming on his bike, wishing that he had bought new batteries for his lights. Maybe they didn't see the cyclist because they could not see sideways through the hood they are wearing. Maybe the driver cannot easily see the pedestrian, dressed in a long dark coat, with hood up and brolly down, because their windscreen is still a bit steamed up, and there are hundreds of raindrops on the windscreen, obscuring the driver's view.
Once the danger is seen, nothing is going to change for at least 2/3second, because that is how slowly the average driver reacts, and New Drivers may take twice as long to identify the scene as
hazardous. At 30mph we are travelling at 13 metres per second; so at least 8metres are going to be covered between seeing the hazard, and starting to brake. I think some "firm braking " is going to be needed... Now! Unfortunately though, we cannot brake too firmly, otherwise we risk losing grip, and control of, the car.
To sum up... Road users are in a hurry, in bad conditions. No-one has good visibility, no-one has good grip, but may still may be legally travelling at 13metres every second, and yet people are still
prepared to take risks.
How can we minimise these risks? Luckily, there are a number of things... The correct mix of screen-wash, that won't freeze in these condition, is a useful starting point, together with a pair of new windscreen wipers to clear the outside of the windscreen. De-icing all of the windows and mirrors will help us to be able to see out. De-misting the insides of all the windows properly before moving off is an absolute necessity. Looking well ahead, and keeping your eyes moving is going to help you have time to see and identify potential hazards before you get too close to them. Anticipating where the next hazard may be, will get the driver ready to react. For example, maybe there is always a deep puddle just around a corner. Or there may be no-one at the Pedestrian Crossing, but you may remember that the school pupils always rush around "that corner" to get to the Crossing point.
Keeping your brakes checked and in good condition will help you slow down the speed of the wheels efficiently. Keeping plenty of even tread on all of your tyres (including any spares) will help those tyres to maintain grip whilst slowing down. Tyre pressures are also extremely important. If tyres are incorrectly inflated, it can affect road-holding capabilities when turning, aquaplaning, endurance of the tyre, fuel consumption, as well a braking capabilities.
The type of tyre used, and it's tread pattern. Some tread patterns are designed for higher speed driving, such as motorways. Some are designed for maximising grip in wet conditions. Standard
tyres are designed for general use, but their grip and efficiency reduces greatly at temperatures lower than 7 degrees centigrade. Winter tyres are made using a rubber mixture that does not become stiff or brittle in cold conditions, and therefore are much more suitable for cold seasons. There is a marked improvement in steering and braking control in cold conditions when changing
from standard to winter tyres. The tyres can be swopped over at the beginning and end of the cold seasons. Some garages will even store your unused tyres, ready to swop back for you as the seasons
Reducing your speed can greatly reduce your stopping distances. For example, using wet road braking distances: Reducing speed from 60 to 30mph will reduce the stopping distance from 146m to just 46 metres, From 40 to 20mph reduces the stopping distance from 72m to 24metres. So, halving your speed reduces your stopping distance to a third, not by a third, but to a third. Reducing speed from 30 to 20mph will halve the stopping distance.
To sum up... In bad conditions, road users need to be able to see the hazards, and be seen They need to be able to react promptly. They need to be able to stop promptly, in control.
Clear the windows and mirrors properly, and keep them clear
See and be seen.
Be considerate to other road users
Is it safe? Are you sure?
Maintain your vehicle properly, maybe timing the annual service to be ready for winter
If in doubt slow down.
If you are still in doubt, maybe you should stop?