Driving tips for high winds

Tips & guides

20 March 2018

Strong winds can be a major challenge when it comes to driving safely – especially if you're travelling in a high-sided vehicle or towing a trailer.

Driving through high winds can be an uncomfortable but quite a common experience in as autumn turns into winter in the UK. On the rare occasions when we see hurricanes hit Great Britain, it's far safer to simply postpone all non-essential trips until the winds have died down.

However, less extreme gales and storms shouldn't necessarily stop you from getting behind the wheel. While it’s important to watch out for debris like fallen branches, the biggest challenge posed by windy weather involves adjusting your driving to suit the conditions.


Vehicle types

Different vehicles are affected by windy weather in different ways, as aerodynamic properties can vary widely even among family hatchbacks and saloons. Modern 4x4s are more similar to vans than cars in terms of their susceptibility to crosswinds, while low-slung aerodynamic coupés are well-suited for powering through strong gusts.

High-sided vehicles are prone to being pushed sideways when strong gusts hit them, which means it's important to react and steer quite quickly to compensate. Large commercial vehicles (such as transit vans) also often have very light power steering that provides no feedback on what the wheels are doing, and less experienced drivers may react to vertical swaying by over-compensating or panic braking. With that in mind, if you're fairly new to driving a large 4x4 or van, it's safer to avoid travelling in high winds until you've become more accustomed to the vehicle's range of movement.


Driving tips

When driving through a storm, your car is likely to be buffeted by the odd strong gust, so always grip the wheel firmly and reduce speed before bends in case there’s a slow-moving vehicle (or debris) around the corner. Some advanced warning of incoming gusts comes from watching the vehicle in front for signs of buffeting, and observing the swaying of trees up ahead. Open ground and bridges are more prone to sudden gusts than urban areas, and it's always best to keep a safe distance from high-sided buses or trucks: these can create turbulence that may reduce the stability of smaller vehicles travelling in their slipstream.

If possible, try and plan your journey to avoid small, narrow roads, as these are more likely to be blocked by fallen trees or debris than larger main roads. Finally, remember to give cyclists and motorcyclists a wider berth than usual, as they are easily buffeted by side winds.


Towing

The risks of high winds are worsened when travelling with a trailer, such as a high-sided caravan or heavy boat. Any travel plans involving a trailer should be cancelled if weather reports predict gales, since the bracket or tow bar that connects a vehicle and its trailer is a vulnerable pivot point.

Travelling more slowly than usual will help to prevent trailers from jack-knifing or snaking from side to side in high winds, but don't be tempted to substitute a trailer for a roof box – these are particularly bad in crosswinds, as they're not very aerodynamic and also raise the vehicle’s centre of gravity.