WINTER SAFETY: Safe Driving Tips for the Chilly Season


Winter has made an abrupt entrance with overnight temperatures dropping to below five degrees Celsius with a cold wind that adds to the chill factor. ASHREF ISMAIL gives some driving tips to ensure that driving in the cold does not become an experience fraught with danger.

It is understood that you should make sure that your car is serviced regularly, as per the manufacturer’s specifications. This becomes even more important when your car is out of warranty. It is also a good idea to ask a technician to give your car a once-over and check for things like battery-life, anti-freeze levels, any radiator leaks, damaged hoses, wiper blades, heater/defroster and all electrical components such as lights and switches. Experiencing a breakdown is bad enough, but it is much worse in winter.


Regardless of the season, all tyres, including the spare, should be checked regularly for acceptable tread depth and any indication of tyre damage. As the outside temperature drops, so too does tyre pressure. Check tyre pressures at least once a week. This becomes especially important in colder temperatures. Also make sure that the spare, jack and wheel spanner are all securely fixed into place.

It is your responsibility to study the vehicle’s handbook and heed any outlined warnings. So many, unsafe and unnecessary situations can be avoided if drivers just familiarized themselves with their vehicle’s operational requirements.

Assemble a rudimentary toolbox with some basic tools that could assist in getting you out of a sticky situation. The toolbox should include a towrope, a torch with spare batteries, insulation tape, a warning triangle, a puncture repair kit and battery charging cables. For your own safety, it’s always advisable to include a reflective vest and a simple first aid kit in the event of an emergency.


When getting into the car, don’t just turn the key and drive off. Follow what is referred to 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 and carefully observe the surrounding area before moving off.

On the road, travel at lower speeds and ensure you have maximum visibility at all times through all the windows and mirrors. If visibility is poor (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. It is also illegal to drive with fog lamps in the absence of fog, snow, smog, mist or heavy smoke. Spotlights and LED light bars fitted to the roof of a vehicle can blind oncoming drivers and are thus outlawed also.

Following distance is crucial, especially on roads covered by a thin layer of sleet that can significantly increase stopping distances. It is recommended to maintain a following distance of around four seconds. This will allow for better reaction times and a longer distance to come to a complete stop.


Remember that the sun sets early in winter while many pedestrians are still negotiating their way home, using various modes of public transport. They are often dressed in dark, winter clothing that makes them practically invisible and extremely vulnerable at night.

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 situated next to freeways. Drop your speed and also watch for stray animals that sometimes feed next to the road or even sit on the blacktop to warm themselves.

When embarking on a long journey, plan carefully by monitoring weather forecasts and traffic reports. Don’t rush and leave earlier to allow time for delays. If road or weather conditions become hazardous, pull over at a safe location and wait for conditions to improve before continuing.