As the thick of winter begins to set in, and the cold snap grips the British Isles, our roads become more dangerous by the day. Winter may be the season of Christmas, but there’s nothing festive about careless behaviour on the road. Frosty, and icy conditions mean that there is an enhanced chance of accidents and it’s important to be aware of the best things you can do before, during and after your journey. The Institute of Advanced Motorists in 2012 published research carried out by the Met Office which found that
slippery roads (due to weather) contributed to 13,420 road casualties in 2011, and related to 79 fatalities, and rain, sleet, snow or fog was the cause of 1,786 reported road casualties in 2011. The main factor in this was travelling too fast for conditions in 13,425 accidents in the year of 2011. With similar conditions expected this winter, these statistics from three years ago are still incredibly important. Obviously, the list of key factors you should take into consideration are endless, you should always prepare for every eventuality, and the unpredictably of the British weather makes it imperative you do this.
We’ve summarised IAM’s Winter Driving Campaign, but this is only a brief overlook. More information on the best ways to stay safe can be viewed on their official website. There are a number of equally credible sources available: The AA's handbook is an absolute necessity, and there’s important information available on the Gov. Site
- Visibility is key; if you can’t see, you can’t drive. We know it’s a pain to scrape your windscreen at half six in the morning – but skimping on this is a decision that could affect you, or someone else’s life.
- It’s important to check your tyres before you started your journey. Tyres should have a legal minimum tread of 1.6mm. You can use a tread depth guage, should you be so priviledged, or you can use a 10p coin (Really) to measure the tread surface. You should avoid travelling with defective tyres, as this will of course increase the likelihood of skidding on patches of ice, frost or snow. Tyres are probably the most prevalent factor – they’re the only contact your vehicle has with the road.
- Driving in snow is a nightmare. Nobody likes it – but road rage or going too fast is not the answer, and neither is going too slow. Try and set a median speed, not too fast to endanger pedestrians and other drivers and not too slow to risk losing momentum when you need it.
- Starting gently from a stationary position and avoiding high-revs is crucial. Stay in a higher gear for better control.
- Slippery conditions are usually monitored very carefully, and gritters and highway maintenance are usually very quickly on the scene. However, should you find yourself in a skid, take your foot off the pedals and steer. You should ONLY use the brakes if you cannot steer yourself out of trouble.
- You should also double or triple your normal stopping distance from the vehicle in front; so you are not reliant on your brakes for stopping. Probably the most unreliable car function in these conditions, don’t pin all your hopes on them!
- Your journey should be planned around busier roads as they are more likely to receive attention from gritters. Minor roads are less likely to be cleared and treated with salt – and remain hazardous. Country roads are advised against.
- Ice congregates, typically, in areas shaded by trees and buildings. Consider motorway bridges, and other exposed areas where wind-chill could drop temperatures below freezing.
- Bends. It doesn’t really need explaining does it? – But the fact is they are exceptionally dangerous in slippery conditions. Slow down well before you reach the bend, so by the time the steering wheel is turned you will have lost a satisfactory amount of speed.
- Downhill slopes are, of course very dangerous for all types of conditions, and icy and frosting coating on the tarmac is certainly one of them. Get your speed low before you descent, and do not allow it to build up. You don’t want to be struggling with the brakes, and sliding all over the place in these conditions.
- A winter kit can be exceptionally useful should you break-down or get stuck in cold weather. A shovel and some grit is probably not part of your weekly supermarket shop, but it’s a necessity to help you pass through severe ice patches. Your phone should be charged, and a breakdown service number available on hand.
If the worst does happen there are few things you should bear in mind:
- Remember where you are; Modern cars have excellent GPS, and a host of kit, but a lot of older models don’t. The breakdown or emergency services we’ll need to know where you are to help you.
- Find a safe place to stand away from traffic flow; as the next driver could lose control in the same place.
- It’s always better to leave your vehicle, and you should always stand a short distance behind and to the safe side of it. Standing in front of it, is dangerous for you and other drivers who can be distracted by breakdown-ees. IAM adds: ‘’Balancing the risks of a collision and hypothermia is something that is dependent on your situation.
Sources: IAM, Gov, FleetNews