As the nights draw in and winter approaches, the act of taking your motor vehicle out on the road becomes that little bit more dangerous. A combination of bad light, poor road conditions and mechanical wear and tear can create a dangerous cocktail, and, in order to minimise the risk of accidents it’s necessary to take certain steps, many of them before even sitting behind the steering wheel of your car.
The problems caused by winter driving conditions are, in the main, two fold. The first factor to be coped with is the simple fact that many cars are more prone to suffer mechanical breakdown in cold, damp conditions and the second is that driving conditions themselves are much more hazardous during the winter months. On a basic level, the fact that it gets dark much earlier means that visibility is reduced, particularly when the darkness is allied to fog and heavy winter rainfall and colder conditions can also lead to ice and snow on the road, with a resulting deterioration in the amount of grip tyres can exert, and thus the degree of control you have over your car.
Whilst solid statistics for winter accidents can be hard to come by, a survey by Continental tyres found that the winter months saw 6393 more road traffic accidents than in summer, with the number rising more sharply once the temperature gets lower than seven degrees centigrade. These accidents can lead to serious injury, and compensation may even be claimed by the victims. There can also be secondary problems, such as medical negligence if an injured victim receives incorrect treatment.
Despite all of this, however, there are certain steps which any driver can take which will alleviate these problems, and by adopting these basic precautions it is possible to make driving during the winter months that much safer.
Keeping your car in the best possible condition is one of the key factors governing safe driving, and there are certain basic, simple steps which any driver can take. These include making sure that the coolant supplying the engine contains anti-freeze to stop it from turning to ice. If the engine does freeze then vital parts of it may crack, resulting in expensive repair bills. A glycol based anti-freeze, on the other hand, will only cost a few pounds.
It’s vital, at all times, that visibility is kept to the optimum, with the view through the windscreen and all the other windows being as clear and unencumbered as possible. Before setting out on a journey, ensure that any snow and ice have been removed from the windows of your car, and also get rid of any snow which might be on the roof, as this can fall onto the windscreen as you’re driving. Use your air conditioning system to de-mist the inside of the windscreen and regularly check that your windscreen wipers are in the best possible condition. On top of all this, always ensure that your windscreen washer fluid is topped up, and contains an additive to prevent freezing (NB – do not use standard anti-freeze as this will damage the paintwork of your car).
As an aside to the measures mentioned above, it’s absolutely vital to ensure that the glass lenses of all your cars lights are kept clean and that the bulbs are checked and, if need be replaced, on a regular basis. Before setting out on a journey, make sure than any snow or ice has been removed from all the lights and, when driving in poor or dark conditions, use your fog lights if necessary to clearly illuminate the road ahead, and to make you plainly visible to other road users.
Clearly, when it comes to maintaining your grip on icy, difficult roads, then maintaining the integrity of your tyres is of the utmost importance. To this end, it is recommended that you maintain at least 3mm of tread on the tyres. Anything less, particularly if it’s under 2 mm, will provide insufficient grip in winter driving conditions. Check your tyres regularly and replace any which aren’t up to the task.
Other simple rules include sticking, where possible, to main roads and allowing extra time for your journey to rule out any temptation to rush. Despite all precautions, it’s still possible for things to go wrong, particularly if the weather becomes especially severe. Bearing this in mind, it’s only wise to take certain items in the car with you in case you spend some time stranded and immobile. The items you should take include the following:
The Highways Agency also provides advice on driving in winter weather.