Car safety in cold weather

Looking at what drivers and passengers should avoid during the cold season.

With poor winter weather beginning to bite, we’ve got some top driving tips for you to stay safe during the colder months. But what about in-car safety and other considerations at this time of year?

Don’t leave children in thick coats

It might be tempting in the cold to swaddle your kids up in big, thick winter overcoats and then bundle them into the car like that. But if the coat in question is thick enough, there ends up being too much space between the body and the restraining seatbelt, and the belt then won’t work as effectively in the event of a crash.

So this rule applies to adults as much as it does children, but obviously they’re more dependent on parents for safety. Your car will have a heating system, so use that once the engine is warmed through – or, if you’re driving an electric vehicle and it has a heat pump, pre-condition the car before you even get in it – rather than leaving everyone onboard in coats. And if you or the kids still aren’t warm enough, add blankets to the cabin that can be tucked over bodies once seatbelts are safely secured.

Avoid chunky footwear

On a similar theme, people tend to wear substantial footwear with thick, largely inflexible soles on them at this time of year – for good reason: they’ll keep your feet warm and give you grip while walking on icy surfaces. But, conversely, they’re no good for driving, where you need a degree of feel and finesse on the pedals to operate a car correctly. So even if it might be a faff, it’s probably better to take some thinner-soled driving-type shoes with you, and switch into them once you’ve got into the car on cold days.

No ‘portholing’

Scraping snow off the car, properly de-icing the windscreen and making sure the glasshouse is clear is an absolute essential at this time of year, but there’s a temptation – if it’s only a light frost obscuring the windscreen, or if the car is only misted up inside from cold but dry weather outside – to clear just a small portion of the front screen to see out of, rather than the whole field of glass. You might be in a rush, for instance, and now you can peer out of a small circle of the windscreen, you could think it’s time to head off. But this is called ‘portholing’ and it’s not safe at all. You need to see out of both front side windows, the windscreen and, preferably, all the rear glass as well to have full vision all around the car in winter – and therefore be as safe as you can possibly be.

Car Ice Scraper

Prepare well

Although no one wants to break down, problems can occur with cars at this time of year especially. So put things in the vehicle that will help you in the eventuality that the worst comes to the worst – like plenty of snackable food and water, so you’ve got something to eat and drink while waiting for rescue, or thick blankets, coats, bobble hats and woolly gloves that you can put on if the car is stranded somewhere remote, or an in-car charger so you can keep your smartphone topped up with power so that you can call for assistance.

Connected to that, if your smartphone does power down, pack a separate torch into the vehicle in case you need to walk for help in the dark – don’t rely solely on your phone to help you in all eventualities in an emergency. You might also want to pack other specialist kit too, such as jump leads, an empty fuel can, a tow rope, a shovel, a warning triangle, an ice-scraper and/or de-icer, and high-visibility clothing, so that you can be as safe and as self-sufficient as can be in the event of a breakdown.

Don’t forget your sunglasses

It might seem contrary to offer this advice when we’re talking about snow and ice and the biting cold, but if it’s clear skies during winter then an unusual problem presents itself – searing glare from the low-lying sun. Because it hangs lower in the sky all throughout the winter days, it can be shining right in your face while driving (depending on your direction of travel at or around sunrise and sunset). Wet roads exacerbate the situation by reflecting the sun into your eyes, so a good pair of polarising, anti-glare sunglasses can be just as essential to driver safety in the depths of winter as it can be at the height of summer in a heatwave.

Give yourself plenty of time

Before you even get in the car, you’ll help yourself no end if you add a load of contingency time to your journeys during winter. Due to the adverse driving conditions, there’s an increased likelihood of very slow-moving traffic or even accidents during this time of year, so drive times can become longer than you might expect. You’ll improve your safety, and accordingly your frame of mind, if you factor that in before you even get in the car – give yourself up to 50 per cent more time for every journey made during winter than you would normally expect, and you’ll be a lot safer. Even if it does mean dragging yourself out from your lovely, warm duvet at crazy-early times of the morning on occasion.

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