21-Dec-2017

How to stay safe on UK roads this winter

How to stay safe on UK roads this winter

It’s starting to feel a lot like winter, and all though the season isn’t officially underway, the cold weather could certainly convince you into believing otherwise. With the drop in temperature, there can of course arrive certain issues when we go about a daily lives, particularly when it comes to navigating the UK’s various roads and highways.

Icy surfaces and poor visibility are a perfect mixture for unfortunate accidents – as those working highway maintenance jobs will well know – and as such, the onus is on us to be as careful as possible while out and about. Taking this into consideration, we have put together the below guide, with tips and advice, on how to stay safe on UK roads this winter.

Highways England, a governmental company who is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the UK’s motorways, issued a press release in mid-November 2017, saying:

“Highways England’s team of 1,300 specially trained gritter drivers based across the country are geared up for winter – and are urging drivers to do the same.”

Road at dusk

And Roads Minister, Jess Norman, has commented: “Highways England has informed us that they are well prepared for adverse weather, with enough salt to cover 610,000 miles of our motorways.

“But the expert advice is clear: drivers need to make their own judgements about road conditions. If it doesn’t look safe then they should stay put and travel once weather conditions have improved.”

With that being said, The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), who work diligently behind the scenes to change attitudes regarding accidents and the legislation surrounding them, have some great advice and tips for how to say safe on the road during winter:

“Driving in the winter is very different than in other times of the year. Adverse weather and longer periods of darkness (especially after the clocks go back at the end of October) makes driving more hazardous.”

Consider refresher training

RoSPA advise that undertaking a little retraining is always a good idea, especially if you are lacking experience of driving in wintery conditions:

“When was the last time you had any driver assessment or training? This is an ideal time for some refresher training. If your employer provides driver training, take advantage of it. Or you can contact the RoSPA Advanced Drivers and Riders group in your area. To find out which is the nearest to you, go to http://www.roadar.org.uk .”

Perform essential checks

driving on icy road

One of the first things you should do to help prepare for the tricky conditions that winter can bring is to perform essential checks on your vehicle. RoSPA suggest checking that your “battery is fully charged” and that your vehicle’s fluids are topped up, “especially windscreen wash (to the correct concentration to prevent it freezing), anti-freeze and oil.”

Other checks to perform include:

  • Making sure that the tread depth is above the 1.6mm minimum, allowing your car to have enough grip to handle the icy conditions.
  • With the dark and gloomier days that winter brings, it’s important to check that your lights and indicators are all functioning as they should, so there’s no issues during your early morning or evening trips.
  • Brakes are of course something to monitor. Normal stopping time can be impacted by slippery roads so you will need to be confident that your breaks are operating at a high standard. No squeaking!

The TSA (Track Safety Alliance), who work on improving the health, safety, and wellbeing of track workers, have issues a ‘Prep4Winter’ campaign for workers in the industry, which happens to include some pertinent information for road safety.

The TSA say to make sure that tires are of the right pressure and to check your vehicle manual for what that correct pressure should be. They also say to make sure that your fog lights are in good working order (including being clean), wipers are in good condition, and your windows are clear.

Make any repairs

If you come across any repairs that need to be made during your checks, this of course needs taking care of. As soon as you become aware of the issue, don’t delay, get your vehicle looked at as quickly as possible, especially if it pertains to your visibility while driving. Safety first is as applicable here as anywhere else. Do everything you can to allow yourself pleasant travels this winter season.

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Inform others of your departure

Before you set out on your journey, it’s a good idea to inform people of your departure and when you are expecting to arrive at your destination. Of course we can do all we can to help ensure our safety, but accidents do happen, so it’s important that people you know are aware of your whereabouts. So when heading off to meet someone, let them know that you are on your way. In bad conditions, it can sometimes be difficult for help to find you should the worst happen (especially in the countryside).

Be cautious around ice

icy road

This might be our most obvious tip but it’s well worth mentioning. Ice might be the biggest danger to drivers out on the road and can wreak havoc if we don’t behave cautiously around it. Black ice – formed by frozen rain on tarmac – can be very hard to spot and often forms in the early hours or late evening. This is of course a huge hazard so beyond fitting your car with snow tyres make sure to listen to this advice from the RAC :

  • Gently steer into any skids
  • Refrain from heavily applying the brake while skidding
  • Keep your speed low
  • Change gear smoothly and utilise higher gears to aid with grip
  • Keep the wheel straight if you hit a patch of black ice, and don’t hit the brakes

And if the weather should really turn against you, finding yourself stuck in the snow as a result, RoSPA advise to not rev your engine in order to power out of the rut, as this will only make matters worse. “Instead, move your vehicle slowly backwards and forwards out of the rut using the highest gear you can.”

They also add that if this fails to work, to make sure to have a shovel to dig your way out or ask a passer-by for assistance.

Acquire the right tools

When you know that you will be driving in wintery conditions, make sure you head out with the right tools to aid you in various situations. Make a checklist before departing and ensure that you’ve got all that you need. Items could include warm clothing, fully charged mobile phone, car phone charger, ice scraper, de-icer, high-vis clothing, snow chains, food, and snow shovel. Be prepared for the worst and hope the worst doesn’t occur.

RoSPA say that if you do not have such a kit with you for emergencies, to “at least take extra warm clothes, boots and a torch,” and to “consider keeping a couple of long-life energy bars in the glove box.”

Check the weather forecast

Finally, before you ever sit down behind the wheel, check the weather forecast, especially if you will be out on the road for a long time. If you see that there are bad conditions ahead, and that things could get a little tricky, decide whether the journey is worth it. Do you need to travel right now? Can it wait for another time? These are all things to consider and knowing the forecasted weather will at least allow you to make that decision.

Another thing to consider would be to use local accommodation – as the TSA advise – to prevent long journeys. By making a booking at the midway point, you can save yourself an excessively long trip in wintery conditions.

Of course, highways, roads, and UK country lanes can be dangerous when the weather takes a turn for the worst, but by being sensible, and adhering to the advice in this guide, you should be more than prepared for whatever you and your vehicle might come across. 

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