It’s the time of year when the days get shorter, nights get longer, and roads get more dangerous. The earlier nights, mean there are still plenty of cars on the road as it gets dark, and in a couple of weeks it will be dark during the morning and evening rush hours. Add in the increased likely hood of rain, fog, and wet leaves on the roads, and this makes the roads a very dangerous place to be at this time of year. October & November regular appear at the top of the charts for months with the most accidents.
You can help keep yourself out of these statistics by making sure you have POWER
This doesn’t just mean Petrol. In our POWER, Petrol also means Diesel, or even Electricity. The SWTRA (South Wales Trunk Road Agency) who are the South Wales equivalent of The Highways Agency, use the word FLOWER (Fuel, Liquids, Oil, Wipers, Electrics, Rubber) instead of POWER as an acronym, and F for them stands for Fuel.
Regardless of Fuel or Petrol, it is important to ALWAYS make sure you have enough fuel in your car to complete your journey. There are multiple reasons for this, all amounting to the same thing. Ensuring you get to your destination. You may think “its ok, I’ll get fuel on the way” however, what if the place you were going to get fuel is closed, or has run out? Did you know it is illegal to run out of fuel on a UK motorway?
Even if your not on a Motorway, you don’t want to have to to potentially walk a couple of miles in the dark to get buy fuel. Other than this. If you are stuck in a traffic jam, or even a snow storm, and you end up being in the car for a considerable number of hours longer than you had originally planned. You are going to want to have the heaters on, and possibly the radio. Heaters in most cars, work by drawing heat from the engine. With the exception of EV’s, cars get the electricity to power radios etc from the car battery, which is constantly re-charged by the engine. Without the engine, the heaters wont work, and eventually, the battery will die. Leaving you in the dark and cold. Having enough fuel, will make sure your engine can keep running and you can stay warm.
Maybe not so important for an EV, but for an ICE car, Oil is the life blood of your car. Without enough of it, your engine will seize up. In the summer, this could just be an annoying and expensive issue. In the winter, in the dark, this could be a more serious problem, as you could be stranded in the dark and cold.
Windows encompasses your windows and your wipers. Check your wipers regularly to ensure they are in good condition, and clean. Make sure the edge that makes contact with your windscreen is straight and notch free. Any nicks or notches in the wiper means the wiper is not making contact with the glass at that point, and the wiper is not wiping anything. Check the rubber is not starting to come away from arm of the wiper either. If the rubber is starting to come away from the arm, then the wiper will be loose, and wont be making contact with the glass properly. It also means it could come off the arm at any point. Last thing you want in the middle of a thunderstorm is for your wiper to completely come off the arm.
Check your windscreen regularly for stone chips. Depending on the size and location of a chip, this could be an MOT failure. That’s the good news. Un-repaired a chip will eventually form into a crack. This is more likely to happen in the winter as we have more rain and colder temperatures. Water will get into the chip and then could freeze and expand the chip (do you remember “freeze thaw” from high school geography?). If your lucky, the crack will just get bigger and bigger, and nothing else will happen. Until MOT time. If your unlikely, the crack could cause the windscreen to fail, whilst you are driving. This may be a rare occurrence, but for the sake of getting a chip repaired is it worth the risk? Especially when the likes of Auto glass will repair your chip. Often for free, depending on your insurance.
Before starting your journey, ensure you windows clear, and you have full visibility all around. This includes scraping all the ice of the windscreen, and front windows, and ensuring they are fully demisted. This is normally in the mornings, but also occur in the evenings, and at night time. Especially in the middle of winter. It is an offence to drive your car without full visibility. If you oversleep, and are late for work, or a meeting. I’m sure your boss or person you are meeting would much prefer you were a couple of minutes late, because you took the time to clear your windows and arrived. Rather than you not making it at all because you had crash on the way, because you didn’t clear your windows. If they are the later, you need a new boss, or seriously reconsider the people you are doing business with.
Check all your lights regularly. Including your fog lights. Turn on all the lights on the car, and walk around it. It takes 10 seconds. The only lights you cant check on a walk around are your reverse lights and brake lights. To check these either ask someone you trust if they are working, or to operate the brake and put the car in reverse whilst you are behind the car checking it. Alternatively, you can use a wall or similar and see if the light is reflecting off the wall. This is best done with all other lights off, so you can be sure which lights are reflecting off the wall. Most modern cars do have warning lights that alert the driver when a particular bulb has stopped working. Whilst a good indicator, a manual check should also be regularly undertaken.
Make sure your heated rear window, air con, blowers, heated mirrors are also all working. The heated rear window and mirrors may be slightly harder to check. If it becomes clear that any of these are not working, get them fixed as quick as possible. Whilst most people think of Air-Con as being used to keep the car cool in the summer, it is also an excellent demister, and will clear a windscreen a lot faster than blowers alone. Most cars with Air-Con also have some kind of climate control. Keeping the air-con on in the winter allows the climate control to work fully, and prevent windows from fogging up. Even when fully loaded with passengers on the coldest, wettest of nights.
Whilst not as important, it is also wise to ensure your USB ports and 12V sockets are fully operational. These can help keep your phone charged, or charge a dead phone. Should you be involved in an RTC or some other emergency, the ability to charge a mobile phone could mean the difference between being able to phone for help, and being stranded.
Everything on this list is as important as everything else. However, if we had to say one was more important that any of the others, Rubber would be it. This is your tyres. They are the only things keeping your car in contact with the road, and it is critical they are in good condition, with good tread at all times.
Low tread means your car is less effective at channelling water away and maintaining a good contact with the road. You will have less grip. The legal minimum tread depth on a car is 1.6mm across 1/3 of the tyre. That doesn’t mean that 1/3 has to have at least 1.6mm, and the other 2/3 can be lower. It means if 1/3 of your tyre is lower than 1.6mm, regardless of how deep the tread is across the other 2/3, your tyre is illegal. May speed bumps in the UK are bus and ambulance friendly square speed bumps. The dimensions of these speed bumps and track of Buses & ambulances (and fire engines) mean that they can go past the bumps without actually going over them. This allows for a smoother, less bumpy ride on the bus, means paramedics can treat patients in the back of an ambulance without being bounced up and down, and also allows Ambulances and Fire Engines to respond to emergencies without slowing down for the speed bumps. All while ensuring cars do have to slow down for them. However due to their size, many people drive over these by trying to “glance” the bumps, positioning the car so tyres graze the speed bumps, so the don’t have go over the entire bump. This approach wears the inside of a tyre down a lot quicker than the outside. Whilst on the outside the tyre may look fine and have good tread, on the inside it could be a different story. When checking the tread depth on your tyres, it is a good idea to jack the car up so you can get a good look at the inside of the tyre, and check the tread fully all the way across. You can do this with the front tyres, by turning the steering wheel from full lock to full lock instead of jacking the car up.
The general condition of your tyre is important as well, not just the tread depth. Whilst checking your depth, look around the tyre for cracks, and run your hand around the walls of the tyre feel for bumps or other imperfections. On both the inside and outside. This is also why it is a good idea to jack the car up to check the tyres, so you can get a good feel all round. Cracked tyres indicate the rubber is starting to fail, increasing the changes of a blow out. Bumps in the tyre can also indicate the same. If at any time whilst running you hand around the tyre you feel something sharp, you should take the wheel off and replace it with the spare immediately, or call a mobile tyre company, to come and change the tyre. There is a good chance, the sharp thing you are feeling is the cord, which means the rubber has been worn a way and you tyre is not safe. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU DRIVE WITH EXPOSED CORD
By following POWER, you can do your part to stay safe on the roads this winter, and make sure your car is a safe place to be. There are other things you can do, and be mindful of as well.
As visibility reduces, and the weather gets worse its important to keep a greater distance from the car in front. On a dry road with good visibility, the general rule of thumb is 2 seconds for a car to stop. That includes the reaction time of the driver spotting the hazard, and pressing the brake pedal, and the brakes working and bringing the car to a halt. On a wet road, the stopping distance doubles to 4 seconds, on ice, it doubles again to 8 seconds. Both with the same reaction time. In poor visibility due to light conditions or rain, the reaction time will also likely lengthen, as it is harder to see, and things may not be as obvious. This could add another second onto the total stopping time. During the winter, in the dark, in the rain and especially on ice, increase the distance from the car in front.
Whilst you can’t control how much space the car behind leaves between you, you can still do your bit to maintain the stopping distance. If the car behind is too close for the speed you are travelling at, reduce your speed slightly to a speed that would allow safe stopping in the distance they have left. Where possible, pull over and let them pass.
As humans, we tend to like our own personal space. When driving in poor conditions, try to create your cars own, personal space, and keep a safe distance away from everyone all around you. Not just the car in front, and behind, but to the sides of you as well. When overtaking cyclists, give them plenty of room. Especially in windy conditions, as they could quickly be blown of course, or swerve around a puddle. Same for pedestrians who may unexpectedly step into the road, to walk around a puddle. When on a dual carriageway or motorway, and there are cars overtaking you, consider slowing down slightly, so they can get past you quicker, and be prepared for them to move into your lane sooner than you would anticipate. When approaching a junction, be prepared for drivers moving from the middle or fast lane at the last minute to take an exit. Anticipating any such moves can help your reaction time, should you need to react. When passing a slip road joining a motorway or dual carriageway, if there are cars coming down the slip road, if the lane to your right is free, move over to it. This will allow more room for cars to join the main carriage way from the slip road, and will maintain your car’s own personal space.
Never assume another road user has seen you, and will stop, slow down or move to create space. Always assume you have not been seen and act accordingly, and create and maintain your own space.
Lorries, Coaches and Buses. These large vehicles require more room to manoeuvre, and also have larger blind spots than cars. On wet roads, they can also create a lot more spray than a car. Give them even more room than you would a car. These vehicles do not have rear windows that the driver can see out of. Many will have a rear camera for reversing, but often these will only be on when the reverse gear is engaged, and in general driving they will be off. This means they the drivers rely on their mirrors to see what is behind and around them. You may have seen on the back of some of them stickers saying “If you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you” which is true. However that is not the whole story. Often, the driver will still not be able to see you, even if you can see the mirrors. This is particularly try when you are in their blind spot. To see if the driver is able to see you, look in the mirror. If you can see the drivers face in their mirror, the can see you. If you can’t, they may not be able to see you. Remember, just because they have the ability to see you, doesn’t mean they have seen you. In particularly heavy rain, a lorries mirrors are next to pointless as well. Spend as little time as possible alongside them. In strong winds, be mindful that the trailer could get blown off course suddenly, and the driver may appear to be swerving to try to control the vehicle. If possible, keep a lane between yourself and the lorry. If a gust of wind does blow the lorry, they will have an empty lane to be blown into.
When pulling in front of a lorry also be mindful of the extra weight they may be carrying, which will increase the mount of room it needs to stop. As a general rule, a lorry needs around twice as much room to stop as a car. In wet conditions this could be four times as much, and on ice 8 times as much. In icy conditions a fully loaded 44T artic could take nearly 30 seconds to come to stand still. Nearly half a mile! You should always leave a lorry plenty of room anyway, but even more in poor driving conditions.
These larger vehicles also generate a lot more spray. When overtaking one on wet roads, increase the speed of your wipers before you get near to them. This will help keep your windscreen clear.
Pedestrians & Cyclists
Both of these can create a danger in the winter, especially those that are not motorists themselves. If they are wearing dark clothing they will be hard to see, even where street lamps exist, and may not be seen until you are very close to them. Earlier this year, the highway code changed, and a “Hierarchy of Road Users” was created. This essentially gives the most vulnerable road users right of way in almost all situations. Despite the changes, all road users still have a responsibility for their own safety. However, many pedestrians and cyclists have taken it upon themselves to ignore the last bit, and only focus on the first part. Namely that they always have right of way over a car. This has lead to an increase in pedestrians crossing the road without looking, and cyclists doing likewise. In the winter months, always be prepared for a pedestrian to cross the road without looking, and a cyclist to pull out of a side road doing the same
Remember POWER this winter to keep yourself and other road users on the safe on the roads this winter