Winter is well and truly here, and it’s this time of year more than any other that drivers need to take extra precautions to reduce driving risk.
Ice and fog make driving conditions more difficult than usual and it isn’t just winter weather that puts your vehicle at risk; car theft also spikes dramatically in the winter months. In this bulletin, Gallagher offer their tips for mitigating common winter risks and keeping you on the road this winter.
Preparing for your journey
When cold weather strikes, it’s important to take some extra time before starting out. Give yourself time to clear and defrost car windows and remove snow and ice from your mirrors and lights. You should also check the tyres, battery, brakes, fuel, oil, lights, heater, cooling system, and wipers. Check the weather before leaving, and don’t ignore advice about closed roads.
You should also regularly check that the heating system works and that the windscreen washer levels are topped up. Keep an emergency kit in your car at all times; this should include blankets, a first-aid kit, jump leads, a torch, ice scraper, gloves and water. Lastly, don’t forget to keep your mobile charged.
Once on the road, drive slowly – if you drive when visibility is poor or road conditions are wet and icy it will take longer to react to hazards. You should also steer and brake sooner, but more gently than usual. Use low gears to avoid skidding, and maintain a safe gap between the vehicle in front as stopping distances double in wet weather and increase ten fold in snow and ice.
Advice for driving in snow
- Think twice about overtaking, if enough time has been given for the journey, it’s better to keep the speed down.
- Pay more attention to the road and be aware of icy patches in shaded areas.
- Make sure the vehicle is ventilated to stop the windscreen misting up and to stop the vehicle getting stuffy.
- Use the highest gear possible to avoid wheel spin whilst taking care not to let your speed creep up.
- When driving downhill, choose third and fourth gear to prevent skidding.
- Drivers using a manual car should start in second gear rather than first to minimise risk of wheels spinning.
- Brake gently to avoid locking the wheels – gentle manoeuvres are the key to safe driving.
- Ice forms first on bridges, overpasses and shady areas. When driving over patches of ice decelerate slowly and hold the car steady.
If you do get stuck do not spin your wheels as this will only dig you in deeper. Instead turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way and lightly touch the accelerator to help ease the car out. If this doesn’t work then use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the car and pour sand, car litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels, to help get traction.
If you do become stranded do not leave your car – if you are sure the car’s exhaust pipe is not blocked, you can run the engine and heater for about 10 minutes every hour as long as there’s enough fuel in the tank. Layer up with warm clothing and be careful to leave one window slightly open as heavy snow can seal a car shut, trapping you inside.
Driving in heavy rain
Considerably more common than snow, rain can be equally as troublesome – transforming road conditions in an instant. Your vehicle can be damaged even if you drive through a few inches of water so never attempt to cross a flooded road if you are uncertain of the depth. If driving through shallow water, you should only cross if nothing is coming the other way and drive very slowly in first gear to prevent stalling. You should always test your brakes after driving through floodwater to check they are not wet. Keeping the engine rev count up will also keep water out of the exhaust pipe.
Another issue is aquaplaning, which occurs when vehicles lose contact with the road surface. If this happens you need to slow down to help tyres reconnect with the road. Driving at night can also cause problems, due to glare from lights being increased by rainwater. Cruise control can also reduce reaction time, as can wet shoes – so be sure to dry them on vehicle mats to prevent wet soles slipping off the pedals.
Precautions in the Fog
You should only use your fog lights if visibility is less than 100 metres, as otherwise they will dazzle other road users. Once fog lights are on, dip your headlights and do not follow the lights of the person in front. If visibility deteriorates further, listen for traffic at junctions by opening the windows.
What should you be advising employees?
In adverse weather conditions, it is important to assess whether journeys should be taken at all. The best thing in bad weather is to stay off the roads altogether. If travel is necessary, responsible planning should be involved, for example, avoiding unsalted and ungritted roads, steep hills and areas with heavy traffic.
You should encourage employees to schedule time for rest stops, comply with speed limits and factor in traffic conditions. You should also make sure that employees are aware of the emergency arrangements and that they know what to do in the event of an accident, breakdown or getting stuck, and ensure that vehicles contain adequate equipment.
Preventing car theft
Another risk in the winter months is car theft – which increases along with other types of theft at this time of year. This is partly due to a need from thieves to make easy cash, but also because people are more prone to taking risks. You should never leave your car engine running unattended while it warms up and defrosts, and doing so is likely to invalidate your insurance.
As well as this, relay theft – where two thieves work together to break into a car which has a keyless entry system by using equipment to capture the signal used to start the vehicle – is also an issue for newer cars. To do so, one thief stands by the car with a transmitter, while the other stands by the house with a second transmitter which picks up the signal from the key (which would usually be kept near the front door and within range of the transmitter). This signal is then forwarded to the transmitter by the vehicle, tricking the car’s security system into thinking the key is nearby and causing it to open. Once unlocked, thieves drive the vehicle away and replace the locks and entry devices.
To prevent this type of theft you should keep your key as far away from your car as possible so that the signal can’t be picked up. Even doing this may not be enough however, as sophisticated hacking devices may pick up signals from further away. If you are concerned that your vehicle may be at risk, as well as keeping your keys as far away from the front door as possible, you should also consider storing them in a metal box or “faraday” pouch which could prevent the signal being picked up. As an additional means of protection you should consider a Thatcham steering wheel lock, which provides additional physical security. Find out more at thatcham.org/what-we-do/security/.