It’s the time of year, when driving becomes even more hazardous than usual. Ice, snow or laying water can dramatically increase the number of accidents and driving experience will have a big impact on your ability to manage them.
The easiest way to avoid an accident in bad weather is
to stay off the roads, but this will not be practical for everybody. In poor weather conditions, we recommend only making the most essential of journeys – if possible, get some exercise and walk to your destination instead.
If your journey is essential, we have outlined some of the things you should do or may experience and how best to deal with them. It seems obvious, but it’s largely common sense.
Before You Travel
Nobody plans to get stuck and “I’m just popping out for an hour” can turn into several hours or even longer if the weather turns on you. You should be prepared for everything and a “Survival Kit” should be packed in your car, ready to go. This should consist of:
First Aid Kit
A basic first aid kit containing dressings, plasters, safety pins etc should be carried at all times.
Pen & Paper
In the event of an accident, you will need to make a note of some details and a pen and paper should be carried. Many smartphones now have the ability to create notes or have voice recorders and will be sufficient.
Mobile Phone & Car Charger
Essential for keeping your nearest and dearest updated, keeping friends updated on your plight through Facebook - or Candy Crush!
Pack a warm coat, hat and gloves or mittens at the very minimum and if space allows, a couple of thin, long-sleeve baselayers or thermals. Layering is the key to keeping warm and several thin layers are better than one thick layer. A sleeping bag in a compact stuffsack can be a lifesaver if you have the space.
It is best to try and keep these items within the car itself, rather than in the boot as if you do get stranded, you should try conserve as much heat as possible and opening the doors (to get things from the boot) will let in cold air and reduce the heat within the car. In the event of an accident, you could find yourself offroad, unable to get out of your car or open the boot, so it is vital that your gear is easily accessible from inside the car.
High Visibility Clothing
If you do have to get out of your car (and this applies all year round, not just during the winter) then wear hi-vis gear to make sure you’re seen. Hi-vis vests can be purchased very cheaply from work clothing retailers.
Food & Water
Needs no explanation, but even in winter we still should drink around 2 litres of water per day. There is no way to tell how long you may be stuck for, but you should allow and pack at least 2 litres of water per person travelling in the car. Fizzy drinks should be avoided wherever possible, ashigh levels of caffeine in some drinks can lead to dehydration.
High-energy chocolate bars such as Snickers™ or Mars™ or dried fruit and nuts are great for keeping energy levels up. If you’ve been stuck for any length of time, your mood will likely be pretty poor and chocolate is great for giving you a mental boost. Cereal bars, containing seeds, nuts and oats are packed with slow-release carbohydrates, which release energy over a longer period of time and are a goodaddition to your “survival kit”.
Regardless of the time of the year, you should ensure that things like tyre pressures, windscreen wipers and lights are correct or don’t need replacing, but you should pay particular attention to these areas and the others listed below during the colder winter months.
Check the levels of oil, screenwash and coolant/antifreeze to make sure they are as they should be.
If you make frequent, short trips around town, you should take your car for a good, long drive to give the battery a chance to recharge itself properly. If you do become stuck, you may need to start your engine from time to time to keep yourself warm and if your battery is partly-charged, it could fail just when you need it most.
Avoid running your car battery down unnecessarily by listening to the radio, playing games on your smartphone or reading using the interior light. Keep a torch and spare batteries handy so you can read or locate items without having to switch the interior light on.
Make sure your tyres are within legal limits and with an absolute minimum of 3mm. You need the best possible chance of gripping the road in slippery conditions and poorly worn tyres will reduce your ability to control the car.
Aside from reduced performance, poorly-worn tyres endanger the lives of yourself, your passengers and other road users and are potentially illegal, which could invalidate any insurance policy you hold.
You should make sure your tank is topped up if you are planning any kind of journey. If you do get stuck for any reason, then running the engine for short periods of time will heat up the interior of the car.
If your car windscreen needs scraping, start the car and put the windscreen fan on full and turn on the rear windscreen deicer. You should scrape or deice the entire windscreen and side windows, not just a “porthole area” just big enough for you to peer through. You need to have maximum allround visibility to avoid endangering yourself or other road users.
Driving in the snow and ice can pose many problems, but these can be greatly reduced by leaving more time for your journey, driving more slowly than you would under normal conditions and leaving sufficient space between you and other road users.
Avoid any sharp increases in steering and acceleration and minimise your use of lower gears. Taking off in a higher gear reduces the chance of your wheels spinning and gives you more traction.
Where possible, slow the car by going down through the gears and only apply the brakes at the end to bring the car to a halt.
Ice & Black Ice
Ice is usually very easy to spot as it is usually opaque and white, but black ice, is actually clear ice which “transmits” the colour of the surface it is lying on - typically, black asphalt/tarmac – hence “black ice”.
It forms when freezing rain or drizzle falls onto objects that are below or just above freezing point and freeze almost instantaneously after having just enough time to spread into a very thin layer. Over time, a smooth layer of hard, clear ice forms, creating a driving hazard, impossible to deal with successfully.
Ice and black ice creates an unpredictable surface will take even the most experienced drivers by surprise. You are unlikely to travel in a straight line – your car is likely to twist and turn It can take up to ten times as long to stop on ice as it does on a dry surface, so you should be sure that you leave plenty of distance between yourself and the vehicle in front incase you need to stop suddenly.
What do we mean by plenty of distance? 20 seconds as a very minimum – to gauge what that is, take note of an object that the vehicle in front passes and time how long it takes you to reach the same object. If you reach it in less than 20 seconds, you’re too close and you need to leave more space.
You may find that your ability to turn is also significantly reduced and your car may continue to travel in a straight line even with the wheels turned if you hit a patch of ice. We recommend approaching any corners or turns with extreme caution and minimum speed, especially if there are other hazards such as parked cars, brick walls or trees that you could collide with.
Applies all year round, not just during the winter, but if there are large puddles or significant bodies of laying water, you run the risk of aquaplaning (where a layer of water sits between the wheels and the road surface, leaving the car without traction and unable to respond to steering) out of control.
You should slow down and drive through carefully, keeping a firm grip on the steering wheel as it can easily spin out of your hand if your wheels get turned when the wheels hit the water.
What to do in the Event of an Accident
Although you may take extra precautions and drive with additional care, unfortunately, there are many people out there that won’t and you may end up in an accident. If that should happen, you should:
Remain calm – accidents happen and becoming upset, angry or aggressive will not help
Stop – it is a legal requirement, even if the accident seems minor in nature. If possible, pull over to the side of the road and turn your hazard lights on
Keep safe – ensure it is safe to get out of the car – put on any high visibility clothing. Stand away from the roadside and be aware of passing traffic.
Check that nobody has suffered any injuries. If they have, depending on the severity, try not to move them unless they are in immediate danger.
Assess the situation - if necessary call the emergency services using 999 or 112 (European standard number for emergency services). Neither has priority over the other and will get you through to an emergency operator.
Don’t admit liability - even if you believe you are at fault. It is the job of the insurance company to decide where the blame lies.
Take contact details - include name, address, contact telephone number and the registration and type of car. People rarely know their insurance details and as long as you have the car details, your insurance company can determine who their insurer is and who to contact. If there are any witnesses, ask for their details too.
Take notes - make a note of the exact time and location, factors that may have contributed to the accident and any injuries that occurred. Detail anything that you think is relevant.
Take photos – take photos of any damage to both yours and the other vehicle if possible. Most mobile phone have at least a basic camera on board.
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