Winter is coming: tips for keeping safe on the roads

Running late one frozen January morning, the driver pulled away with only a small panel of glass to peer through in a frozen, crystal windscreen. He’d tried to remove the frost but the cold fingers refused to budge, so he figured that he’d just go to work slowly and hope the windscreen gradually cleared.

To this day he can still see the crossing that he drove through, and the astonished faces of the people who were walking across as he missed them by a few inches – had the window been frost-free the near-miss would have been completely avoided. That driver was this writer, who pulled over to compose himself, and drove on.

Winter can be a terrible experience for underprepared drivers, who venture out in a vehicle that is not fit for purpose, sometimes in horrific conditions, with little clue of what they would do if the car failed.

As winter approaches one of the most important steps for any driver should be to spend a little money on emergency items. These include a torch, a medical kit, spare blankets, a reflective triangle, a spade or shovel, a scraper, and food and water; crisps and energy bars are ideal. A fully charged pay-as-you-go phone (wrapped) is also an excellent idea, as are some of these suggestions from the Red Cross. Purchase these items in good time so that you don’t lament their non-existence when you’re sitting stranded in a frozen shell of a car.

If your car is relatively new dealers such as T W White and Sons will have checked its condition before you purchased it, but if not you should regularly monitor the car for wear and tear. Keep the oil/water/antifreeze/screen wash levels topped up; one check a week should suffice, or more in extreme weather. Keep spare bottles of everything, plus antifreeze and spare fuses, in the boot.

When the temperature drops, only travel out if you absolutely must. Telephone your office to check if you can work from home. If the journey is vital start preparing early; a driver can actually be fined for driving when the window is obscured as above. If there is an ominous squeaky sound emerging from the engine the water pump may still be frozen and coolant will not circulate, which could ruin the engine.

Roadside assistance companies such as the AA make sure extra patrols are on call as breakdowns are more likely in the cold months. Anything that uses battery power, such as the wipers, heaters, lights and even the radio should be utilised in moderation. The car temperature will soon rise once the heater is on full blast, so turn it down to low once you feel toasty.

Tyres should ideally possess 3mm of tread for winter motoring. Some drivers swap to winter tyres, which give greater grip. Drive slowly and carefully, braking earlier and gently. No boss will punish you for tardiness in brutal weather. Try to take major roads which are likely to have been treated by emergency services rather than small country lanes, and if you do feel the wheels slipping resist the urge to brake as the wheels may lock further, creating additional danger. If the sky is foggy, used dipped headlights.

Low autumns and winter sun can also be a danger as it may obscure a driver’s vision. According to these figures in the Daily Mail 28 drivers a year are killed by the glare of the sun around the time of the clocks changing, and 3,900 are injured. Wearing sunglasses, lowering your speed and increasing your vigilance of other vehicles may all help.

In conclusion: preparing early, being diligent with your checking, and driving sensibly will not totally eradicate danger on the road, but these three steps will greatly decrease your chances of mishap.

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