Toolbox talks: eight tips for safe winter driving
As part of our ongoing commitment to health and safety here at Smith Brothers HQ, our SHEQ manager Darrell Johnson hosts monthly ‘toolbox talks’ – with each instalment dedicated to a timely topic.
Already this year, we’ve covered working at height, occupational health and wellbeing, firefighting, noise and, of course, COVID-19. And he’s doing such a great job, that we’ve decided to share his tips and tricks with the wider Smith Brothers family – right here on our blog.
So, as we batten down the hatches ready for the frosty season, this month’s spotlight has landed firmly on winter driving. Over to you, Darrell…
The UK clocks go backwards one hour on the last Sunday in October – taking us from British Summer Time (BST) back into Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). For many of us, that equates to a feeling of ‘winning’ another hour in bed, but research has also revealed that serious and fatal pedestrian collisions increase 10% in the four weeks after we alter our watches.
Slippery surfaces, rain and snow, frozen car components and spray thrown up by other vehicles can all make it harder to drive safely during the colder months. But, to put you on the front foot when it comes to your own journey, here are eight ways to keep moving in the months ahead.
1. A well-maintained battery
Cold and damp weather can play havoc with batteries. According to Axa, your car is 51% more likely to have power problems in winter – a statistic backed up by the AA, which cites flat batteries as the most common cause of call-outs in these chillier times.
Lower temperatures affect the chemical reactions needed to get you moving in the first place, coupled with the fact that during darker commutes, your lights and heater are used more – draining the reserves at a much higher rate.
2. Clean and working lights
We get it. Driving in winter means you’d need to wash your car almost every night in order to maintain some semblance of the original paint colour. But, it’s vitally important that your lights are in good working order, and the front of the lenses are free from dirt and grime.
Having ‘the best car in the world’ is all well and good, but this is a big problem if you can’t illuminate the road ahead – or be seen by other drivers on dark, rainy and foggy days.
3. Keep your engine lubricated
While maintaining your oil levels is a year-round job, it becomes especially important in winter. Don’t let your engine cease up at the expense of a quick check and top up – and don’t rely on electronic warnings if you still have a trusty dipstick under your bonnet. The experience of breaking down is much more uncomfortable, and dangerous, in the dark and cold.
4. Antifreeze in all the right places
Antifreeze is a key component when it comes to maintaining the health of your engine. This clever little lubricant lowers the freezing point of liquids and will help to protect your car’s radiator and other components when water is liable to freezing – and expanding as a result – which could lead to spilt radiators, pipework or even broken engine cases.
5. A clean windscreen
We’ve all been there… scraping ice from your windscreen with a credit card or driving behind a lorry and being treated to a view full of sludge. A frantic pull on the screen wash lever then delivers nothing but a whine in protest as your pipes are frozen solid.
Year after year, we encounter the same problem, so top up your reservoir with water and the right winter additive to prevent this annual headache. If you’re in a rush, it can be tempting to set off with the windscreen still partially frozen or steamed up. Resist the temptation though, as reduced visibility means you’re much more likely to have an accident – and be held liable for it.
There is little point in having a heated windscreen and all the right liquids if your wipers aren’t up to scratch – you might as well quit while you’re ahead. So, it’s a good idea to make sure your blades are in good condition too. They don’t cost much to replace, and the safety benefits they provide are priceless.
6. Decent tyres
You’d be surprised how small your point of contact with the road is relative to the cosy interior of your four-wheeled friend. That’s why, for people living in colder or more rural areas, winter tyres and snow chains can really help with road safety. You don’t have to splash out on these if you don’t want to, but they do come with deeper tread patterns and are better equipped to deal with snow and ice.
Whether you’re running Pirelli or Michelin, it’s important to make sure you have enough tread on your tyres. Although the law states the minimum depth as 1.6mm, the AA recommends at least 2mm – and preferably 3mm – to cope with those tricky conditions.
As well as good tread levels, make sure you regularly check your tyre pressures conform to the manufacturer’s recommendations, and make sure your spare tyre is in the same good condition as the other four.
7. Emergency equipment
It’s always sensible to hope for the best and plan for the worst. So, if you do break down, having emergency provisions will make life easier while you wait for help. Grab a box from the garage and fill your boot with things such as a breakdown kit, warm clothes, food and drink, a pair of wellies, torch, tow rope, de-icer, high-vis vest, and first aid kit.
8. Charge your phone
Finally, make sure your mobile phone is well charged before any journey – or if that’s not possible, let someone know when you expect to arrive at your destination. Of course, never use your phone while driving – you can get six penalty points and a £200 fine if you do!