Road users are being warned to take extra care, as the Met Office issued snow and ice yellow alerts for large areas of Scotland, England and Northern Ireland as temperatures plummet this week.
Slips and falls can be a danger for pedestrians when conditions are icy. The national weather service has also said there’s a chance of disruption to road, bus and rail networks as the cold snap sets in.
So, what can drivers do to help stay safe on the roads during harsher winter weather? Here are some tips…
1. Check your car is prepared
Preparation is key. Colder weather puts a greater strain on elements such as batteries, meaning they’re far more likely to struggle or fail at this time of year. So, if your battery is struggling to turn the car on, it might be time to replace it.
Check fluid levels as well. When it comes to windscreen washer fluid, you shouldn’t use water on its own as this will struggle to clear windows in winter, so get a dedicated solution with antifreeze in it.
Having tyres in good condition is especially important in winter, when the roads tend to be wet and grip levels are lower. Make sure they’re correctly inflated, with no signs of damage and plenty of tread. Although 1.6mm is the legal minimum, it’s advisable to have more than this over winter. You could also think about choosing winter tyres, but these aren’t necessarily essential.
2. Remember to turn your lights on
If you’ve only driven in summer, it can be a shock when suddenly it’s close to dark by mid-afternoon. Being visible on the road is really important, so make sure all your lights and indicators are working (including fog lights).
And crucially, remember to put your lights on at the start of every journey if it’s going to get darker. Even if your car has automatic lights fitted, don’t presume they’ve turned on. Also, all new cars have daytime running lights (they’re mandatory at the front, but not the rear), so you can falsely think you have your headlights on, even if no lights are illuminated at the rear.
Make sure your lights are clean too – it’s worth wiping them every now and again to maximise vision – and never set off if your windows are fogged up or still covered in ice or snow.
3. Keep your distance on the road
Winter brings much less grip on the road – especially when it might be icy. One of the best things you can do is to keep your distance on the road.
Whether you’re on the motorway or around town, always ask yourself if the vehicle in front slams on its brakes, would you be able to stop in time? The larger the gap from the vehicle in front, the more likely you’ll be to stop before hitting it, particularly in winter when braking distances are extended.
4. Slow down when temperatures drops
As soon as the temperature drops to anywhere close to zero, you need to change your driving behaviour. Avoid any harsh braking or turns of the wheel, as this could cause you to skid and lose control, and make sure you keep your speed down.
Even if a road has been gritted, there may be patches that are still icy, so you should still be cautious. And even if the temperature has increased well above zero, there may be shaded patches that might not have thawed.
5. Stock up on supplies
The last thing any of us would want to happen is to get stranded on the road in winter, either because of snow or an accident or breakdown. That’s why it’s important to make sure you have supplies in the car to help, just in case worst comes to worst. This includes having food and drink and also warm clothing.
It’s a good idea to carry a shovel with you too, to help dig you or a fellow driver out in bad weather if needed. Sprayable de-icer and an ice scraper should be must-haves to carry in your car over winter as well.
6. Allow plenty of time for your journey and consider alternative routes
In icy and cold weather, the last thing you want is to be in a hurry on the road, as that’s far more likely to lead to a collision – so leave plenty of time for every journey. This will also help if you end up in heavy traffic.
You might want to reconsider your route too, particularly if there’s snow or widespread ice. Try to stick to busier roads however, as these will be the ones most likely to be clear and gritted, as smaller rural roads may be more treacherous and are often not gritted.