There's only so much your instructor can teach you when you’re learning to drive.
If you’re a natural behind the wheel and start your lessons in the spring, you could have passed your test by the end of the autumn, meaning you only get to experience a limited set of weather conditions.
British weather is infamously unpredictable, too, so on the day of your test you could be caught off-guard. Even what most people consider ‘perfect driving conditions’ present unique problems, so we’ve put together this brief guide on how to adjust your driving depending on the weather.
Driving in rain
It sounds obvious, but remember to use your windscreen wipers! In the midst of everything else you have to concentrate on, some learners forget the basics.
If rain gets heavier, increase the speed, and if the downpour stops, be sure to turn them off. As well as ensuring you can see out properly, it’ll demonstrate you’re on the ball and are confident with the car’s controls.
Rain is often accompanied by cold temperatures. Turn the heater on and direct the fans at the windscreen to prevent them from fogging up with condensation.
Roads can also become slippery after rain, especially if it’s the first rain after a dry, dusty spell. Remember to leave extra space between you and the car in front. If you’d usually be following the car in front around two seconds behind, double this to four seconds by reducing your speed.
Driving in fog
Heavy fog will cause your test to be cancelled. If the fog is lighter and the test is going ahead, or fog suddenly appears mid-test, remember to use your headlights. Never use high-beams in fog as they can present a hazard to oncoming vehicles.
If visibility is under 100m – roughly the length of a football pitch - it’s a legal requirement that you put your fog lights on, so make sure you know how to do this before setting off.
After you’ve passed your test, you could find yourself driving in dense fog. In this event, turn off the radio and open the window so you can hear oncoming cars before you see them. This is especially handy at junctions.
Driving in snow and frost
Believe it or not, tests will often go ahead if there is snow on the ground, as long as the roads have been gritted and are reasonably clear. Even if there’s no snow, early morning tests can be can-celled if there’s a heavy frost and the roads haven’t had the chance to clear.
If you’re taking your test in winter, try to book a late morning or early afternoon slot.
Your test takes in both main roads and residential streets, and often country roads too, so all of them need to be clear for the test to go ahead.
Many drivers don’t experience snowy conditions until after they’ve passed their test. When you do, keep your steering, acceleration and braking as smooth as possible. Aim to keep your revs low to avoid spinning your wheels, by using a higher gear.
Braking distances are also much larger - around three times the usual distance - and can be helped by changing to a lower gear and using ‘engine braking’ – this is when you take your foot off the accelerator so the car slows down, without hitting the brake pedal. Using lower gears will further aid engine braking.
Driving in high winds
Grip the wheel firmly with both hands, and anticipate gusts that can push the car sideways. Taller, slab-sided (long and flat) cars are particularly susceptible.
Even if you don’t think your car is likely to be affected, remember that other road users like cyclists and goods vehicles might, so be ready to react quickly.
Driving in bright sunshine
You might think a bright, hot day makes for perfect driving conditions. But on a clear day, especially in winter when the sun is lower in the sky, it can be extremely difficult to drive. Ensure you use the sun visor in front of you; this will demonstrate to the examiner that you can react to the conditions presented.
Remember also hot, stuffy conditions can raise tempers as well as temperatures, so be on the lookout for rash driving from other road users.
Can I wear sunglasses during my driving test?
Yes, but remember, the examiner will be watching to see if you’re checking your mirrors regularly, and dark sunglasses can make it harder for them to be sure.
With this in mind, you should only wear them when absolutely necessary, and not as a fashion statement. Make it obvious you’re checking mirrors by moving your head, not just your eyes.
What do I do if my driving test is cancelled because of the weather?
On the day of your practical driving test, the Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency is responsible for ensuring your safety and the safety of other road users.
This means that in adverse weather - when the roads are especially icy or there is thick fog, for instance - your test might be postponed. Not only does this ensure safety, but it also means everyone has an equal chance of passing their test.
If your test is postponed because of the weather, you should be sent a new appointment date within three working days. This could be up to seven working days if bad weather hangs around.
If the new date is inconvenient, you can cancel your test and get a refund (or reschedule it for an-other time) as long as you give at least three days’ notice.
Getting on-road experience in different conditions
When learning, many of us make our lessons part of our weekly schedule - a regular slot on a Saturday morning, perhaps, or straight after school or college. The problem with this is that you only really get experience at one time of day.
It’s important to gain experience and confidence driving around the clock, not just in preparation for your test but to ensure you’re a competent driver after you’ve passed. You’ll need to be capable of driving at night, and in early-morning mist and fog.
One way to achieve this is by driving someone else’s car between lessons - a friend or family member’s, for instance. You can arrange your own insurance, too, without affecting their policy at all.
Admiral’s Learner Driver Insurance starts from just £1.71 a day for 90 days’ cover, and protects the car owner’s No Claims Bonus from being affected in the unfortunate event you have an accident. The car’s owner doesn’t need to be insured with Admiral, either.