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Money & Rights

Safer winter driving

Road accidents increase by 20 percent in winter, according to research, so it pays to take extra precautions, advises Teri Harman

With rail operators running a reduced service- or no service at all- over the festive period, anyone planning to visit family and friends may have little option but to drive, and of course it's much easier to pile the boot high with food and presents than it is to struggle with them on public transport.

However, driving in over particularly over long distances, presents challenges. Fewer daylight hours mean we are more likely to be driving in the dark, there is an increased chance of snow and ice on the roads, and even it's sunny cloudless skies can mean a strong glare with low sun blinding motorists driving into it.

Even experiences drivers need to tale extra care in winter to ensure their own safety and that of other road users.

Be prepared

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) recommends the start of winter as a good time to book your car in for its annual service as the garage will make all the checks you need for safe winter driving. However, if you can't have your car serviced, you can run your own checks.

In particular, make sure your lights are clean and working, you battery is charging efficiently, the windscreen wiper blades are in good condition and the washer bottle is full up with the correct concentration of screen wash to prevent it from freezing. Check the condition of your tyres to ensure they have enough tread and test the pressure, remembering to include the 'spare', and check the oil level, too.

RoSPA also recommends you keep and 'emergency kit' in your boot. If this seems like overkill, imagine yourself stranded overnight in your car, due to poor weather conditions or a breakdown.

RoSPA suggests you have a tow rope, shovel, a hazard warning triangle, de-icing tool, first aid kit, torch, blanket and some food rations, including a flask of hot drink. John Snowling, Automobile Association (AA) Patrol of the Year in 2016, says: "Also take plenty of warm clothing with you including wellies, water and high energy snacks, any necessary medication and a fully-charges mobile phone. This is especially important for children and elderly people who are more likely to suffer from the effects of cold.

"If you do break down, your heater won't work and, for your own safety, you may be advised to wait for help away from the car.

"You would be surprised how often I come across people with only thin clothing on a sub-zero day, who face serious difficulty when their vehicle conks out."

Plan your route

It may be that your proposed journey is one you have driven many times in the past, so you know the road like the back of your hand, but, even so, it's sensible to plan alternative routes in case of accidents or icy conditions. Listen to local and national weather broadcasts and travel bulletin to see if there are any anticipated problems in the areas you will be driving through. Ensure you have a full tank of fuel before setting off, especially over the holiday period when petrol stations may be closed.

You need to be prepared to change your plans if conditions on your route worsen. Work out potential alternative routes to your destination before leaving home. If your car has sat-nav, this will obviously help,. Many sat-navs receive live traffic data about congestion on your route and will reroute you onto a less congested and faster road.

You may also be able to set you in-car audio system to 'interrupt' you with traffic updates from local radio stations en route which forewarn of any accidents or hold-ups ahead.

If you don't have sat-nav, you can use a smartphone with an app such as Waze or Google maps, but it is wise to ask your passenger to direct you as it is not only distracting but potentiallly an offence to use a mobile phone while driving.

Let someone know where you are going and what time you hope to arrive, so that they can raise the alarm should you fail to arrive as expected and are unable for any reason (such as no mobile phone signal) to summon help yourself.

Finally, be sensible. If the road conditions are really bad, and the weather forecast suggests thins will only get worse, seriously consider delaying r abandoning your planned journey together altogether.

Careful driving

The AA also has tips on how to adapt your driving style to cope with wintry conditions. First and foremost, take it slowly as shopping distances can be ten times longer in ice and snow, and keep manoeuvres 'gentle'. Pull away in second gear, easing your foot odd the clutch carefully to avoid wheel-spin, and when driving uphill leave plenty of room or wait until it's clear so you don't have to stop part way up.

Keep a constant speed and try to avoid having to change gear.

On downhill drives, slow down before you get to the brow, use a low gear and try to avoid braking. Again, leave as much room as you can to the car in front. If you do have to brake, apply the brakes gently. if you drive an automatic, the AA recommends checking your handbook as some have a winter mode or recommend selecting '2' in slippery conditions.

If you do get stuck, straighten the steering and clear the snow from the wheels. then out a sack or old rug in front of the driving wheels to give the tyres some grip.

RoSPA says you should resist the temptation to rev up your engine if you get stuck in snow as, if you try to 'power' out of the rut, it will just make the rut worse and you'll be in even deeper trouble.

Instead, move your vehicle slowly backwards and forwards out of the rut using the highest gear you can. If it doesn't work, you may have to ask a friendly passer-by for a push or get your own shovel out.

Lastly, it recommends that, if you are unfortunate enough to get caught in a snow drift, on no account should you leave you car. Instead, call your breakdown service or the emergency services and wait for them to come to your aid, and turn off your engine. Don't run it in an effort to keep warm- put on the extra clothing you've brought instead. 

What do you think to these tips? Do you have any more to share? 

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