Winter driving tips for UK motorists
Driving in winter requires plenty of skill, determination and, above all, patience
When the cold weather hits the UK, the conditions change drastically, so it’s essential to adapt your driving style to match the roads. Not only that, but you also need to adequately prepare your vehicle beforehand should things take a turn for the worst.
In order to help keep you safe and stay on top of the weather, we’ve put together a list of useful winter driving tips.
How do I prepare my vehicle for UK winter weather?
While the UK doesn’t experience the same severe weather conditions as other countries in the winter, it would be a mistake to ignore the risks that the colder weather presents. In 2014, there were 29 fatalities on UK roads as a result of snow and ice, with a further 2,525 injuries according to the Department for Transport (DfT).
There are several ways in which you can prepare your vehicle for the winter, the most important of which we’ve listed below.
Consider the use of winter tyres
When the seasons change so do the road conditions. Tyres that may have been perfect for the hot, dry roads of summer won’t be as reliable in winter. That’s because winter tyres have a different tread pattern and a softer rubber consistency that improves braking, steering and grip in colder temperatures below 7°C.
In Europe, it is a legal requirement for certain countries to have winter tyres due to the harsh conditions they are presented with. While this law does not extend to the UK, it is still better to be prepared rather than risk compromising the safety of both your fleet and your employees.
As a fleet manager, knowing the importance of keeping well-maintained tyres can be a major factor in reducing running costs. The constantly changing pressure could cause them to deflate quicker than when the air is warm and constant, therefore undertaking regular checks will ensure your vehicle can continue to perform at its best.
Equipping vehicles with winter tyres can introduce several benefits, including:
- Improved grip and traction in cold conditions
- Reduced stopping distance in temperatures below 7°C
- More resistant to the harsher weather
Carry out regular vehicle health checks
The colder climate can play havoc with our vehicles, whether it’s frosted windscreens in the mornings or more serious, permanent issues. We have put together some useful tips on what checks to carry out to keep your vehicle healthy during the winter months:
As the temperature dips, it’s worth checking over your tyres to ensure they are safe to use in winter. An icy road can be unforgiving on poorly maintained tyres, so you need to keep an eye out for telltale signs such as a bulge or blister on the sidewall, lacerations or other significant damage, or if the tread wear is below 1.6mm.
While having a build-up of frost and ice on your windscreen can be annoying, failing to address it could put you at serious risk. Ice can increase the chances of smudges and blurring on your windscreen, even when you have removed the ice – and if you combine this with a low winter sun it can restrict your view almost entirely. Stocking up on some decent anti-freeze should easily remove all layers of ice and frost, while regularly checking and replenishing window cleaning fluids can speed up the process.
Your vehicle’s engine requires a lot more power during the cold winter months, so your battery is going to be in for a hard time. Lights and heaters are the biggest threats to draining a battery, so if your vehicle is quite old it could give out sooner than expected. Before the cold arrives, it’s advised that you have your electrical system tested and, if need be, upgrade the battery to cope with the conditions.
The last thing you need when the temperature plummets is for your engine to seize up, but this is exactly what can happen if you fail to check your oil levels. Fortunately, this is easy to avoid with either a simple dip-stick test or by checking your vehicle’s HUD for a warning signal. Drivers are encouraged to carry out these checks on a weekly-basis.
As the nights become darker, it’s easy to take your vehicle’s lights for granted. Poor visibility can have a profound effect on not just your vision, but other road users too. Latest figures have also shown that nearly 85% of councils in England and Wales have, or are planning to, dim street lights, which is an obvious cause for concern during the winter months.
As a result, it’s important to regularly check your headlights and taillights, to ensure they are legal and roadworthy. To help, here are some simple rules to follow:
- Daytime rules – since 2011, the EU has ruled that all new vehicles are required to have lights running automatically once the engine is activated.
- Nighttime rules – you must always use your lights in the night, but they should be dipped when driving in built-up areas so not to dazzle other road users.
- Brake lights – you must ensure they are working and kept clean. Failure to do so will result in a fixed penalty notice (£60 fine and three points on your licence), as well as your vehicle being removed from the road until the issue is fixed.
With the arrival of winter, it’s important to make sure your vehicle is prepared for the conditions. With ServicePoint, drivers and fleet managers can benefit from fleet servicing, maintenance, repairs and MOTs to help keep your vehicles in top condition. In addition to this, should one of your vehicles break down or you fill up with the wrong fuel, the AA’s Breakdown and Fuel Assist programmes will be on hand to help.
Safe winter driving tips for employees
The hazards associated while driving as part of your job increases during adverse weather conditions. In winter, when the days become shorter and bad weather such as rain, snow and fog affect conditions, it can make driving your vehicle a challenge.
If conditions become too serious, all fleet operators should consider putting a winter driving policy in place to ensure employees are properly covered. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974, employers have a duty to ensure their employees must not be put at risk by work-related driving activities.
If you are unsure what this policy should contain, then consider the following:
- Is driving in adverse weather necessary?
- Who is responsible for the employee and what is expected of them?
- Are employees adequately trained to handle company-provided vehicles in adverse weather?
- Is there a plan in place to protect employees in the event of an emergency?
For more information about this subject, consult the ‘driving at work’ Guidelines produced by the Department for Transport.
Safe driving tips - Prepare your vehicle
Employers should ensure all vehicles in their fleet are fully-serviced for the winter. As an employee, you should still carry out your own checks. Check for the following:
· The battery is fully charged
· Lights are clean and working
· Windscreen wiper blades are functioning, and screen wash has been applied
· Brakes are in full working order
· The tyres are in roadworthy condition
Have a winter kit on hand
Having a winter kit can make all the difference in extreme weather conditions. We recommend that you carry the following:
- A torch
- Hazard triangle
- Wellington boots
- A blanket
- Warm clothes
- Mobile phone
- A shovel
- First aid kit
- De-icing equipment
For more information on how to stay safe, consult the Road Safety Factsheet by The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.
Driving during winter weather conditions
Before heading out on a journey during the winter, the first thing you should do is check the weather forecast and traffic information. For those who use a vehicle as part of their job – and for drivers in general – we have put together a quick and useful guide to help you navigate some of the worst types of weather you could encounter as a driver.
Driving in snow and ice
Snow and ice present several challenges for drivers, not least of which stopping distances – it can take up to ten times longer for your vehicle to come to a complete stop in colder conditions. If you encounter snow and ice while driving, consider the following advice:
- When driving on snow, start in second gear to reduce wheel spin
- Wear comfortable, dry shoes for better grip
- Take your time on the roads and avoid sudden actions with braking and steering
- Maintain your distance and leave plenty of room, especially when travelling uphill or downhill
- Ease off the accelerator and gently pump your brakes where necessary
Driving in heavy rain
Heavy rain can cause many issues for drivers, not least of which poor visibility. There’s also a risk of aquaplaning, as the water makes it difficult for your tyres to grip to the surface of the road. Here are some tips you should consider:
· Reduce your speed and allow for more braking distance
· If your vehicle becomes unresponsive, relax and gently ease off the accelerator and steer to safety
· If you break down, don’t open the bonnet as you could risk electrical damage
· Allow for up to two car spaces between yourself and other road users
Driving in high winds
Wind may seem like a minor risk, but drivers should be cautious when driving in these conditions – particularly if they are driving a HGV. Strong gusts could cause your vehicle to become unstable, putting yourself and other drivers in danger. Consider the following advice to keep safe:
· Be wary of larger vehicles on the road, as they are more susceptible to gusts
· Strong winds are rarely constant, so reduce speed to anticipate their sudden arrival
· Keep a firm grip of the wheel to improve handling
· Take special care when driving past potential hazards
Driving in fog
Fog can be one of the most dangerous conditions drivers can face, as it can reduce visibility to almost zero. Severe weather such as this requires your full attention, so consider the following advice:
- Only use your fog lights when necessary, as using them at inappropriate times could present a danger to other drivers
- Maintain a greater distance between yourself and the vehicle in front
- Do not use full beam, as fog reflects light back
- If visibility is severe, wind down your windows to listen out for other motorists
Whether you own a company that operates a fleet or you are a fleet driver yourself, considering the implications that the weather can have on your operation is necessary. The winter period often leads to more traffic and congestion on the roads, while deliveries may even take longer to unload due to the conditions.
For more information on how Allstar can help you, call our team on 0345 266 5101.