Written by Ann Wilkinson
12 December, 2019
The holiday season brings people together and, for many drivers in the UK, that means more time spent on the road driving to see friends and family, start Christmas shopping or visit a festive market with that special someone. With traffic increasing and temperatures dropping as Christmas draws closer, it’s crucial that drivers do everything in their power to avoid accidents and stay safe during winter.
According to figures from the Department for Transport, around 29 people on average are killed, 250 other seriously injured and 2,274 people slightly injured in reported road accidents each year as a result of snow or ice on the road. The risk of accidents increases at night, with research revealing that 3.6 million motorists have been involved in a car crash while driving at night, while a further 4.9 million know someone who has suffered an accident in the dark.
When planning to travel in adverse weather, the first question any driver needs to ask themselves is whether a trip is really necessary. If there’s any way to avoid driving in unpredictable or volatile conditions then that’s always preferable, but more often than not, tackling dangerous roads in winter is unavoidable. Our guide looks at which roads to avoid this Christmas and other winter driving tips to help you prepare your car, drive in adverse conditions and complete your journey safely. For more information on keeping your car in optimal condition during the colder months, read our guide on winter car maintenance.
Before planning any journey over the festive period, it’s a good idea to take a look at the weather forecast to help you avoid the worst of the snow and ice. Although the weather is famously unpredictable in the UK, the weather forecast should give you a rough idea as to the best day and time to travel – if at all. Once you’ve settled on when to go, you should plan your journey as much as possible beforehand, by choosing a route that sticks to roads which are likely to be gritted and cleared, regularly checking traffic updates and ensuring your car is roadworthy well in advance.
When it comes to actually driving in adverse weather, there are certain steps you can take to reduce the chance of skidding on ice. Before setting off you should make sure that your windscreen is de-iced inside and out, as it’s illegal to drive with impaired vision. If you’re setting off on a snowy street, be gentle on the pedals and avoid any sudden or heavy acceleration which could cause wheel spin. Generally, pulling off in second gear and easing your foot off the clutch slowly is the safest way to set off, while using engine braking through the gears as you go downhill will help you keep control of the car.
When driving in bad weather, remember to use your headlights even in daylight as even daytime running lights won’t be visible enough. It’s also important to bear in mind that a car’s stopping distance is many times longer in poor weather and snow will reduce how far ahead you can see, so it’s best to drive as carefully as possible to give yourself longer to react if needed. And – although it should go without saying – it’s crucial that you never drive after drinking. Motorists in England and Wales will be penalised for having more than 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millimetres of blood, or 35 micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath. This roughly translates to two pints of lager or two small glasses of wine. If you’re attending a Christmas party where you think you may be tempted to drink more than the limit, arrange alternative transport or appoint someone to stay sober and drive.
One of the best ways to stay safe while driving in winter is to avoid problematic roads where possible – whether it’s because they’re prone to roadworks, have reduced visibility or hold a high crash risk. As temperatures reached a record high this summer, the government has been preparing for an equally extreme winter. This means that Highways England has been working to help keep drivers moving this winter, by deploying:
News sources have already identified days which are likely to be the busiest for drivers in December, predicting that Brits will take an extra 2.5 million car journeys on the 19th, 20th and 21st in the run up to Christmas. Although avoiding these days and checking traffic reports work to improve the safety of UK roads, there are certain routes that it’s best to avoid in winter regardless of these measures. These include:
|Hardknott Pass||Between Eskadle and Duddon Valley, Lake District||The steep road is prone to heavy ice, with a maximum elevation of 393 metres.|
|Cat and Fiddle Road||From Macclesfield in Cheshire to Buxton in Derbyshire. A537.||Its severe bends and stone wall edging make the road a car accident hotspot.|
|Woodhead Pass||Between Manchester and South Yorkshire, A628.||The roads high altitude leaves it exposed to high winds and bad weather, as well as heavy traffic.|
|Skyfall Road||Highlands at the start of A82||The road is narrow with tight bends and is prone to black ice over winter.|
|Rosedale Chimney Bank||Between Rosedale Abbey and Hutton-leHole, North Yorkshire||The roads average gradient is over 10%, making it a challenge for cars when Icey|