Adverse Weather Conditions: Avoid getting into ‘deep water’
You may feel you are the most competent of drivers and that the vehicle you are driving is well maintained and safe. The combination of driver and vehicle is essential whatever driving task you are engaged in. However, the one ‘component’ that nobody has direct control over is the weather.
Whenever you are driving you should consider the impact of the weather, regardless of the season. You should adapt your driving behaviour based on the potential influence adverse weather may have on your vehicle and other road users.
Whatever the weather, it is advisable to take all possible steps and precautions. If you cause an incident which was attributed to your failure to take into account road or weather conditions, then this could lead to roadside enforcement or court proceedings.
Careless driving is defined under the Road Traffic Act of “driving falling below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver” (per section 3ZA of the Road Traffic Act 1988). The Crown Prosecution Service, whether considering cases of careless driving or dangerous driving will have regard not only to the circumstances of which the driver could be expected to be aware, but also to any circumstances shown to have been within their knowledge. In essence, stating that they would have regard to numerous factors including an awareness of the prevailing weather conditions when driving.
Reducing speed in fog or doing so where there is ice on the road may be the most obvious scenarios. As could a problem caused by the sun setting or rising low in the sky, causing and impacting on visibility. Certainly, in the absence of any other clear and obvious feature that leads to a road collision and investigation into the cause, the police would also have regard to the road conditions, whether there had been rain, excessive leaves, sun or levels of precipitation.
The Crown Prosecution Service is the body responsible for bringing cases on behalf of the Crown (the Police). Whilst of course there are examples of bad driving whether that be dangerous or inconsiderate, when in the context of weather conditions, it is even the case that driving through a puddle causing pedestrians to be splashed could, dependent on the circumstances of the individual case, amount to inconsiderate driving. This is perhaps one end of the spectrum when looking at the need to adjust driving according to the weather.
(See link to CPS here https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal-guidance/road-traffic-fatal-offences-and-bad-driving)
There is a very important message when putting severe weather and driving together. This year’s summer saw unprecedented levels of rainfall. The Met Office have stated that 9 out of 10 weather related deaths and serious injuries on the roads take place in the rain. The cleaning of roadside gullies is not such a common sight as it used to be, leading to more water backup and the inevitable spray seen commonly when following vehicles ahead.
It is important to also consider road conditions do not only become more slippery as a result of ice, but also in the case of wet weather and adverse weather causing slippery road surfaces which also impacts on stopping distances. Taking into account road conditions coupled with weather conditions is essential and keeping a sufficient gap between you and the following vehicle is advisable.
It is not the case that road speed limits are a target, but a maximum speed for the road type. In the same way that approaching a T junction in the middle of a town where there is a 30 mph limit at 29 mph may be careless giving the inability to slow down in poor weather conditions, it will be expected for any driver to reduce speed to enable greater care to be taken.
The Highway Code provides guidance between sections 226 and 237 of driving in adverse weather conditions. In wet weather, stopping distances will be at least double those required for stopping on dry roads. It is typical that tyres will have less grip, brakes are affected by water and if a vehicle is driven through deep water, the brakes may be less effective.
Typical stopping distances are illustrated below (Highway Code section 126). It is perhaps shocking that even travelling at just 50 mph a stopping distance is approximately 13 car lengths (53 metres and 175 feet).
The Highway Code in normal dry weather conditions suggests allowing at least a 2 second gap between you and the vehicle in front on roads carrying fast moving traffic. It is also suggested that for the typical gap the rule is never to get closer than the overall stopping distance as indicated in the typical stopping distance diagram above. If visibility is reduced or there are adverse weather conditions, then that gap should be doubled and increased further on icy roads.
Icy and snowy weather
Driving now for school runs, business commutes, social and work lives is part of most daily routines. For vocational drivers, even more so. No one likes getting up on a cold, icy morning and clearing windscreens or removing snow off the roof. As code 229 of the Highway Code states “You must be able to see so clear all snow and ice from your windows. Lights need to be clean and number plates clearly visible and legible. Mirrors and windows should be demisted, and it is recommended to check your planned route for any delays, or any weather predicted”.
If law enforcement sees a vehicle that has not been cleared properly or even observes snow falling away from the vehicle, then a fixed penalty fine can be imposed, and points added to a licence. If a vehicle causes any difficulty to other road users because of poor driving, then section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 provides for an offence where it can be shown that somebody drove “without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road or place”.
The construction and use regulations make it clear that when a driver is in control of a vehicle, they must have a full view of the road and traffic ahead at all times.
Being distracted when driving is already a common problem on the roads but in adverse weather there is an increased need to avoid distractions and heightened concentration needed. The Highway Code states “drive extremely carefully when the roads are icy. Avoid sudden distractions as these could cause loss of control”. Goods vehicles and those towing will be particularly susceptible to windy weather. Code 232 states “high sided vehicles are most affected by windy weather, but strong gusts can also blow a car, cyclist, motorcyclist or horse rider off course. This can happen on open stretches of road exposed to strong crosswinds or when passing bridges or gaps in the hedges”.
To warm up this article somewhat, we turn to hot weather where the Highway Code advises drivers to be aware that road surfaces may become soft during heat and that in itself could affect steering and braking.
Finally, don’t add to the increase in breakdowns that happen in adverse conditions, whether it be extra hot or snowing. Instead, ensure your vehicle is maintained with lights working properly and carry spare bulbs. Make sure you have sufficient fuel for your journey and accept that the journey may take longer than anticipated and avoid taking the risk where you can.
There is no question that the summer of 2023 was not the sunny and warm one anticipated, and the behaviour of the weather is out of our control, but your own behaviour can be and applying common sense to each journey can help reduce incidents and avoid getting you in “deep water” with the police.