Safe driving tips for winter

Posted by cellcontrol


As you settle into the office for another day of work, chances are you’ve probably braved the intensity of the winter weather we are currently experiencing. As fog sweeps the breadth of the UK and ice covers our vehicles like a frosty blanket, you don’t need us to tell you that driving conditions are less than optimum. According to Confused.com, a quarter of motorists have either been involved in an accident or a near-miss in poor conditions, with added figures from the Association of Optometrists (AOP) revealing an estimated 2,900 accidents each year due to poor vision. That’s why – with the help, also, of the RAC, Brake, Northgate Vehicle Hire, Swinton Insurance and Saga – we felt it necessary to provide you with safe driving tips so you emerge out of the winter relatively unscathed (there’s only so much we can do about a cold, after all!).

Know what you’re up against

Be prepared for adverse weather – such as snow and floods – and long periods of darkness.

Prepare your vehicle

If you haven’t already, make sure your car is fully serviced with an up-to-date MOT. Going forward, this should be done every year – before the full extremities of the season kick in. The most important things on your checklist should be the anti-freeze, lights, battery, windscreen wiper, brakes, fluids and tyres. According to Goodyear Tyres, over half of motorists say they find driving in wintery conditions nerve wracking. Kate Rock, from Goodyear Tyres, says: “Preparation is key for motorists all year round, but particularly during winter when road conditions are harsher and accidents are more likely. Simply checking you have adequate tread on your tyres will ensure your car will grip better when driving on ice and snow. If you live in an area that is commonly known for extreme winter conditions – where temperatures are regularly below seven degrees – you should consider changing to winter tyres.” They advise a minimum tread depth of 4mm in winter and say you can check it easily by placing a 20p coin in the tread of the tyre – if the outer rim is visible, it means you are approaching the legal minimum requirement and should consider replacing it.

A few top tips also come from Click4reg, who say that toothpaste to clean your headlights can drastically improve visibility whilst cooking spray can prevent doors from freezing shut! Managing director, Ben Leonard, comments: “A lot of drivers falsely assume that they can drive the same in adverse weather conditions as they do when driving normally. Drivers, though, need to be very careful when making this assumption. The risks are far greater in snowy, wet, icy and cold conditions. All drivers should desire to improve their understanding of how to adjust their driving in undesirable conditions, for their own as well as other motorist’s safety”.

Make sure, also, that there is an additive in the windscreen wash to prevent it from freezing and cracking the screen. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) has made a film illustrating the most important things to check and how to do so.

Prepare your journey

Check the news and weather before heading out – especially if you are planning a long journey. Be sensible and realistic – if things aren’t looking great, ask yourself how vital it is that you make the journey. If you do make the journey, make sure you someone knows where you are going and your expected time of arrival, plan alternative routes, keep your petrol tank filled to at least a quarter and ensure you allow plenty of time for the journey. Vitally, remove as many distractions as possible so that your focus is solely on the road and other traffic – especially at crossroads and junctions. Turn down the music in your car as if the tyre noise suddenly quietens after the loud crunch of the snow, that could mean you’re driving on a patch of ice.

Emergency kit

Keep one of these in your car at all times and ensure it contains things such as a shovel, grit, ice scraper, de-icer, boots, first aid kit, torch, a warm blanket and foil blanket, warm clothes, a hi-vis jacket, map, warning triangle, jump leads, food, drink and a phone charger – but DO NOT be tempted to use it while driving! As president of The AA, Edmund King, says: “Whilst we advise drivers to keep a fully charged mobile phone in the car we certainly don’t advise them to use it on the move. Drivers should always pay full attention to the road ahead but the consequences of not doing so can be worse in icy conditions.”

Stuart Thomas, head of fleet services at the AA, adds: “Many businesses have drivers who cover a lot of mileage and, in winter, they can be subjected to delays from severe road conditions. By preparing in advance and taking a few simple steps to ensure their vehicle is ready for the colder months, businesses can avoid potentially damaging repair costs and delays. Breakdowns can be more common, more dangerous and more inconvenient during the winter months. Just one breakdown on the motorway could cost a business more than £250, not including loss of earnings, whereas the right breakdown package would see repairs and parts covered on the spot. However, preparing your car for the winter so you don’t break down in the first place is the best approach of all.”

It’s also a good idea to stock up on de-icer, windscreen wash, oil and anti-freeze – hot water is not a good idea because the temperature difference can crack or deform the ice.

Go with the weather

If you’re driving in snow or ice, leave enough time beforehand to fully clean your vehicle externally and demist the windscreen internally, wear comfortable and warm shoes, reduce your speed, use low revs, avoid harsh braking, accelerating and hard steering, slow down with plenty of time before bends and corners, increase stopping distance – as much as ten times the normal (20 seconds) – and keep your vehicle well-ventilated – too much hot air can make you drowsy. Sunglasses can help against the glare of the sun on the snow, and avoid wearing thick gloves because these can prevent you getting a proper sense of how the car is moving beneath you. If you do encounter a skid, drive carefully into it – instead of frantically hitting the brakes – and always drive in a higher gear than usual. If the road has not been gritted, avoid driving in the tracks of other vehicles as compressed snow can often be more icy than fresh snow.

In strong winds, keep both hands on the steering wheel at all times (back to the 10 and 2 position of your learner driver days!), keep your distance from vehicles driving next to you – especially motorbikes and high sided lorries, avoid bridges, look out for fallen trees on the road and be careful not to park near anything that may blow over.

Rain requires twice your normal braking distance and if the roads are flooded, avoid the kerbs – which is where the deepest water usually is – try to find alternative routes and drive as slowly as you possibly can. Vitally, make sure your brakes are working properly beforehand – and test them again afterwards.

Avoid driving in fog unless your journey is absolutely necessary. Believe it or not, winter sun can also cause problems because often it will be too low for your visor, so if blinded by the glare, reduce your speed. Use headlights when needed – fog lights should only be used when visibility is extremely low (100m, according to The Highway Code), because it can negatively affect the vision of other drivers.

Call for help immediately

If you break down, get the vehicle off the road as soon as possible, leave your warning lights on and call either the police or your breakdown cover.

If in doubt, follow Brake’s alphabet

A – avoid driving, B – be prepared, C – careful, cautious driving. Or the AA’s TRACE: Tyres, Reports, Anti-freeze, Cover, Emergency.


Happy – and safe – driving!


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