Winter driving. It’s a phrase that stirs the imagination – and our fears. Perhaps you can picture yourself struggling through a motorway blizzard to reach the comfort of your home, skidding on a patch of black ice, or standing in your driveway unable to get your car started.
But winter contains many dangers for motorists other than just cold weather. The weather is generally worse, so there’s a heightened chance of strong winds, heavy rainfall and, as we've seen in the last few winters in the UK, an increased risk of flooding. The low sun of daytime can get in our eyes and impair our vision. The lengthening nights force us to do more driving in the dark.
These aren’t one-off problems. They are everyday ones. Winter makes constant demands of our skills as motorists, and we must stay vigilant if we are to keep the country’s roads safe. Here are our top tips:
1. Keep your fuel tank full
Make sure you keep enough fuel in your tank for the journey you are making, with some to spare. If you are stuck in long traffic queues, or even break down, the extra fuel will allow you to keep your heating on for longer.
2. Look after your washer bottle
Make sure you use the right amount of water to screen wash. The correct ratios will prevent the liquid from freezing, and keep your car from blowing a fuse.
3. Check the frost on your wipers
Keep the windscreen and other windows clear. Make sure you have some de-icer, an ice scraper, or ideally both. And don’t use hot water to clear your windscreen, or it could crack! Clear snow from the roof as well as from windows as this can fall onto the windscreen, obscuring your view, or fall into the path of other motorists and blind them or obscure theirs.
4. Bring the kit you need
De-icer and a scraper aren’t the only pieces of equipment that you’ll need for winter. You should prepare an emergency kit in case you get stuck out in the cold. This can include items such as a blanket, a torch, a first aid kit and a shovel.
5. Don't leave your car running and unattended
There have been many news stories about unsuspecting motorists having their vehicles stolen whilst they were busy de-icing the outside of their car. To make matters worse, your insurance may be invalidated if your car is stolen as a result of leaving it unattended with the keys in. As tempting as it might be leave your car for ten minutes to warm up, it's not worth the risk.
6. Check your battery and your lights
Batteries have to work extra hard in the cold and are more likely to fail. We would suggest getting your battery checked at an approved repair centre. And remember to check and clean all your lights weekly to ensure you are visible at all times.
7. How's your pressure?
Make time to check tyre pressure, tyre tread and your spare. Consider fitting winter tyres – but, even if you don’t, have your summer tyres checked. For safe driving in winter, your tyres should have no less than 3mm tread depth. Don’t be tempted to reduce tyre pressure to get more grip; it doesn’t work and it reduces stability.
8. Drive to the conditions
When driving in snow, rain, high winds and other poor conditions, take your time, anticipate the road and traffic ahead of you, avoid puddles and keep your distance from other vehicles.
9. Check the weather forecast
Before setting off on your journey, make sure you have checked the route, listened to traffic reports and looked at the weather forecast. Being hit by an unexpected heavy rainfall or snow flurry can be not only inconvenient but acutely dangerous. Make sure you know what to expect before you set off.
10. Have breakdown cover
Ensure that you are signed up to a roadside rescue service. Adverse weather puts enormous pressure on breakdown services - during the heavy winter snowfall of 2010 the AA reported it was attending around 1,000 breakdowns per hour. Make sure you have access to a breakdown service should you need it.
This list isn’t exhaustive – after all, safe driving in winter is about more than just safe driving in winter. Your vehicle and your own driving skills need to be looked after all year round to ensure that they can cope with any conditions. Winter safety requires safety all year round. You can find out more about checking your tyres here, and more about different approaches to road safety here.