Data from Admiral Car Insurance has revealed that around 33% of severe road traffic accidents occur in winter.
That’s it’s even more important to follow road safety guidelines before and during your car journey.
Before you leave…
Check the levels of all your vehicle’s fluids: oil, brake fluid and antifreeze.
It’s really important you have the right levels of oil, brake fluid and antifreeze or coolant. The latter is even more important in low winter temperatures due to the role it plays in the car engine’s internal circuit.
Antifreeze keeps the engine at its optimal operating temperature of around 90 °C. It also prevents the circuit from freezing in below-zero temperatures, which would lead to insufficient engine cooling and cause serious mechanical problems.
Checking your car’s antifreeze level is really straightforward. Move sure your vehicle to a flat surface, then open the hood of your car, locate the fluid reservoir (green, blue, yellow or orange, depending on its properties) and check that the level is somewhere between the maximum and minimum. Do this when the engine is cold for safety.
Swap regular tyres for winter tyres
These tyres have more grip and are specially designed to be used at low temperatures or when there’s snow, mud or ice on the road.
Winter tyres minimise the chances of going off the line and significantly improve braking, thus reducing the car’s stopping distance.
These advantages are achieved thanks to a deeper tread pattern, which improves the evacuation of water and snow, and small plates on the studs, which enhances grip and traction in both snow and mud. They also have a special chemical composition that maintains the flexibility of the rubber at low temperatures, improving its adherence and traction.
To identify a winter tyre, look at the side of the rubber, where it should have an M+S code (Mud and Snow) as well as a pictogram of a mountain with three peaks and a snowflake inside.
If you already have winter tyres on, make sure they’re in perfect condition: without cuts or cracks and that their tread depth is not below 1.6 millimetres. Once you’ve done all these checks, make sure the tyre pressure is right (the car manufacturer will indicate the appropriate level on the sticker on the door frame).
Don’t forget your snow chains
Although they don’t need to be on permanently, it’s important to keep them in the boot in case you get caught in a sudden snowfall. Both traditional and fabric ones work well, but make sure you know how to install them correctly.
It’s best to learn how to put them on when you have time and in good weather, and not wait until you direly need them. They’re fairly easy to install, but it’s best to practise beforehand.
Watch your visibility
Visibility is even more important this time of year than in more favourable weather conditions. The days are shorter and it’s not uncommon to have to drive in fog. Because of this, it’s important to check the status of all your vehicle’s lights, including the fog lights, before any journey. You should also make sure other visibility elements are clean and in good condition: headlights, windows, windshield wiper system and mirrors.
Check your equipment
As we’ve seen, winter is the time of year in which a greater number of car accidents and breakdowns are reported. That’s why it’s so important to have safety gear on hand like the mandatory reflective vest and triangles and even better, a V16 light signal like Help Flash, which has not only been approved by traffic authorities, but is also especially recommended for situations in which adverse weather conditions put drivers at risk when signalling a traffic incident. Designed to work in any weather, it allows your vehicle to be seen when stationary from up to a kilometre away (0.6 miles).
In this type of situation you may also want to have other auxiliary equipment with you, such as a blanket, torch, phone charger and a small basic first aid kit or even some tweezers, in case your battery discharges in the low temperatures.
This will give you an advantage when you set off, and you’ll be ready for any scenario.
On the road…
Increase your following distance
This will give you more space to manoeuvre in the event of landslides cause by snow, rain or ice.
Slow it down
Tyres can lose their traction capacity in winter, especially when the road is wet, so it’s important to drive slower than usual. No abrupt accelerations, long treks or sudden braking.
In adverse weather conditions, overtaking improperly can cause fatal accidents.
Keep the inside of your vehicle at a stable temperature
If it’s very cold outside, keeping your vehicle at around 21° C will stop your windows from fogging up, hindering your visibility.
Stop more frequently
Particularly on long trips, as this will help reduce tiredness by releasing tension and giving you a chance to stretch your muscles.