The weather seems to be throwing all it can at travellers at the moment and the news is riddled daily with reports of flooding on roads and delays on public transport.
The official view is not to travel when road conditions are bad unless it’s absolutely necessary but at this time of year many of us are travelling to family and friends for the Christmas season and feel that it is absolutely necessary. Short journeys in difficult conditions can be bad enough but at this time of the year, many journeys are much longer and the pressure of work means that they’re often made in the dark and at a time when people are very tired. So what should we do to ensure we get to our destination safely and enjoy our Christmas with the ones we love?
For public transport, the best advice is to leave plenty of time, for delays are inevitable when lines are waterlogged or ballast washed away making the rails unstable. Network Rail has promised to do all they can to effect repairs expediently but if you have to be somewhere by a certain time, take an earlier train if possible. Check the latest updates on travel and let those you’re going to see know if you’re delayed.
Most people choose to drive, especially if the size of the group travelling makes train travel expensive. It’s also more convenient for taking luggage and presents rather than struggling on public transport.
After several weeks of coping with ice and snow, we’re back to dealing with rain and floods but following simple rules when driving means that you’ll arrive safely, even if it is a little later than you’d hoped.
Make sure your car is up to the job. Check the oil, washer bottles, battery and fuel levels. Check your tyre pressure and condition too. In wet weather, lower tyre pressures are better as it gives you more grip on the road. Take wet weather gear just in case there’s a problem and make sure mobile phones are topped up and charged and that your emergency cover is up to date.
On the road, keep your distance, remember that in wet conditions, braking distances are dramatically increased. Surface water on the motorways is notoriously hard to see until you’re nearly upon it at night but, whilst the temptation is to brake as you hit it, often the best way of negotiating it is to take your foot off the accelerator, hold onto the steering wheel firmly and plough through it – it will rarely be very deep and if it was, the Highways Agency will have closed off the lane where it is deepest.
On other roads where the water can be deceptively deep, driving with extreme caution is the better option. You may get an indication of the depth of water from the geography of the land around it. In a dip, it’s likely to be very deep and again against a banking or wall. It’s always best to try to take a different route to avoid it for several reasons. If it’s part of a river flood there’s the danger of the vehicle being washed away whilst if the water is deeper and goes over your exhaust pipe outlet, your car will stall. Water in your brake system may reduce braking distances whilst water getting into the air intake system will also damage your engine and ensure you stall.
Driving in fog or surface spray reduces visibility and whilst it’s tempting to use full beam headlights, the reflection off the water droplets can actually reduce visibility. Use rear fog lights to warn of your presence but don’t forget to turn them off when conditions improve.
Take plenty of breaks when driving and top up on coffee to keep you alert. You may get to your destination late but at least you’ll get there.