Tips for Safe Driving in Winter

19 December 2017

We all know that the arrival of winter weather (heavy rain and snow) can make for treacherous driving conditions on the UK’s roads. This combined with a significant increase in traffic during the Christmas holidays can be a recipe for disaster.

Co-op Insurance reported a 50% increase in motor collision claims as temperatures plummeted on Sunday 10th December. To help keep you and your family safe during the festive season and beyond, we share our top tips for winter driving.

Preparing Your Car for Winter

Many of us rely on our cars throughout the year for work and other aspects of day-to-day life, but only drive in severe weather conditions if your journey is absolutely essential. If you are going to be heading out in your car during the winter months, preparation is key.

Fitting winter tyres can be a good idea if you live in a remote area that is prone to heavy snowfall. Winter tyres are not mandatory in the UK, but if you’re going to be heading into Europe it’s worth checking in advance as some European countries do require you to fit winter tyres by law. If you do not choose to fit winter tyres, ensure that you have sufficient tread depth of at least 3mm on your tyres.

Most modern cars use life-long antifreeze, but if yours doesn’t then make sure you top it up to avoid damage to your engine, and to avoid breaking down.

Essential Items to Keep in Your Car

Regardless of how well-prepared you are, you can never predict what will happen on the roads. Winter brings with it an increased risk of breakdowns and road accidents, which in turn means an increased risk of either being involved in an accident or being stuck in the resulting traffic.

It’s important to keep these essentials with you in case you have to spend several hours stranded in the cold:

  • Torch and spare batteries – these will prove invaluable if you find yourself peering under your bonnet in the pitch black or walking along a dark lane in search of assistance.
  • Phone and charger – make sure you’re contactable and able to call for assistance if needed.
  • Shovel – if you’re driving somewhere where there’s a chance of snow, you need to be able to dig your car out if required.
  • An extra fleece or jumper, a warm coat, hat, gloves, scarf and a blanket – you’ll be very glad of these if you find yourself stranded for hours on end.
  • Water and other long-life snacks – keep these in your car so that they’re on-hand if you need them.
  • Medication – keep some in your car if safe to do so.
  • Your AA, RAC or Green Flag membership card (if you are a member).
  • Hi-vis jacket and reflective warning signs – if you break down in the dark, make sure you’re as visible as possible to minimise the risk of an accident.
  • Sturdy boots with good tread – if you need to get out of your car in snowy, wet or muddy conditions it’s important to have appropriate footwear to hand.
  • Jump leads – the cold weather takes its toll on car batteries so make sure you don’t get caught out.
  • Empty fuel can – if your journey ends up taking longer than anticipated you could run out of fuel, so you’ll need an empty can to replenish.
  • Road atlas or map – sometimes technology lets us down, so a good old fashioned map can be a handy backup.

Clear Visibility

You are legally required to keep your windscreen and windows clear, and free from ice and snow. Always carry a scraper and de-icer with you to keep the outside of your windscreen and windows clear. Also carry a demister pad to clear condensation on the inside.

Check your wiper blades are in good condition and ready to tackle whatever winter throws at them. Give them a clean if they need it, or replace them all together if they’re nearing the end of their life. Put a de-icer additive into your screen wash at the beginning of the winter and make sure this is topped up throughout the season. If you’re parking up in freezing weather make sure your wipers are turned off, then free them up manually before switching them on again, in case they’re frozen to your windscreen.

Also remember to clear any snow off your roof before driving. If you forget to do this then there’s a high chance it will slide off your roof and onto your windscreen while you’re driving, obscuring your view.

Make sure that the lights on your car are clean, so that your headlights are effective and your other lights can be clearly seen by other road users. Check that all of your lights are working properly before starting a journey.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s a good idea to keep sunglasses in the car throughout the winter, as you’ll often find yourself squinting into a low sun during the shorter days.

Driving Safely in Winter Conditions

Did you know that stopping distances can be 10 times longer in icy conditions? Leave plenty of room behind the car in front of you and start slowing down earlier than you usually would.

Before setting off, check weather reports and traffic reports to help you plan ahead. Familiarise yourself with your route so that you know where you’re going and avoid making any sudden manoeuvres, as this could cause you to lose control. It’s better to miss a turning and come back to it than attempt to make it at the last minute.

Test your brakes before setting off and brake gently to avoid skidding. Avoid braking on corners – slow down on the approach to a corner instead and then smoothly steer around it.

When driving up a steep hill, wait until it’s clear so that you can maintain a constant speed. Try to avoid changing gear as you’re ascending as you could lose momentum.

When travelling downhill, slow down before you begin descending, change to a low gear and try to utilise engine braking wherever possible. Apply your brakes lightly if you absolutely need to.

If you are involved in a car accident see What to Do after a Car Accident. If you suffer injury in a road accident that was not your fault, we offer free legal advice and all claims can be dealt with on a No Win No Fee basis.

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