Winter driving - how to stay safe

Caroline Cassidy

No matter how many warnings are given, we Brits always seem to be taken by surprise by snow and ice come winter. This year, like last, is expected to be a cold one and the white stuff will almost certainly make an appearance.

winter driving tips
winter driving tips

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While it would be nice to stay warm and cosy indoors, many of us will be forced to take to the roads in all manner of adverse conditions during the winter months, so here are a few top tips to help you stay safe on the roads.

Car maintenance
Before the cold really sets in, your car will need to be in tip-top condition and making just a few changes can mean the difference between getting home from work and sitting by the roadside waiting for the recovery vehicle.

The average car battery rarely lasts longer than five years and in the winter, when many are making rush-hour trips in the darkness, the heating, lights and windscreen wipers can put extra pressure on the battery.

To avoid the dreaded dead battery it's important to avoid running electrics that aren't strictly necessary. Turn off the heated rear window once it has done its job and consider whether you really need the heater on full blast for the entire journey.

If you don't drive on a daily basis, it's also worth starting the engine up and allowing it to run for 20 to 30 minutes each day - this gives the battery time to recharge but ensure that you don't have non-essentials like lights or wipers on. Just remember not to leave it unattended!

Winter essentials
Tyre condition is of paramount importance. The AA recommends at least 3mm of tread for winter motoring, while any less than 2mm could put you in danger. A mechanic can check that yours are safe and those who do a lot of driving should consider winter or all-weather tyres - these contain a higher silica content in the tread, preventing hardening in cold weather and therefore giving better grip.

Antifreeze is an essential - it costs a few pounds and it could save you hundreds in repairs. Though most new cars come with antifreeze already added, it is a good idea to change it every three years, particularly if you have topped it up with water.

No matter how careful you are, in the event of heavy snow, there is always the chance that you will get stuck or are unable to make it to your destination safely. Therefore, keeping warm clothes and blankets in the vehicle (as well as emergency food and drink!) is an excellent idea. Old carpet or a bundle of old newspapers can also come in handy if you get stuck in the snow, so it's worth keeping a supply in the boot.

Getting moving
Obviously driving in winter involves danger too. When we're in a hurry, it is often tempting to get started before the windows, side as well as front and rear, are clear of condensation or ice - but the winter weather usually brings its own visibility problems without you adding to them with impatience.

Leave enough time before your journey to properly clear the view with a scraper or de-icer. Additives to the windscreen washer fluid can help to reduce the chance of freezing on frosty mornings. Alternatively, an old sheet or piece of cardboard may help to keep the screen clear.

And if there has been snow overnight, be sure to clear it from the roof as well as the windscreen as it can fall and obscure your view.

It stands to reason, but if you are on the roads in bad weather, leave plenty of room between you and the car in front. In snowy or icy conditions, the brakes should be applied gently and a constant speed and gentle manoeuvres are the key to staying safe.

If you are concerned about driving on the winter roads, there is always the option of an advanced driving course. These are available at all good driving schools and an instructor can talk you through the dos and don'ts of driving in the snow and ice.

Don't take chances this winter - take care of your car and drive safe.