Winter is coming, but Britons ‘clueless’ on snow-covered roads

Published by Andrew Bogie
20th December 2019
Winter is coming, but Britons ‘clueless’ on snow-covered roads

The UK is preparing for one of the coldest winters in almost a decade, but new data shows many drivers are dangerously unprepared to drive in icy conditions and could be putting themselves and others at risk as a result.

A survey of 2,006 UK car drivers carried out by Auto Trader, the UK’s largest digital marketplace for new and used cars, published in the Winter Driving Study, has revealed that more than 1 in 4 (28 per cent) admit they are too scared to drive in the snow.

The research shows that many drivers are incorrectly interpreting the guidance around safe winter driving or are simply not aware of key aspects of winter driving. As a result, many motorists exhibit dangerous driving habits during the winter months.

According to the data, more than half (59 per cent) of drivers were not aware that black ice is transparent, and may therefore fail to identify it when driving.

What’s more, three quarters of those surveyed were unaware that the safe stopping distance increases by ten times in icy conditions. In fact, more than 1 in 4 (27 per cent) wrongly believe that stopping distance increases by only three times when it’s icy, meaning many could be putting themselves and others at risk as a result of not allowing enough time to brake.

The news comes as data shows there were more than 32,000 road accidents between October and December last year, with 443 of those proving fatal.

The study by Auto Trader also reveals that more than 1 in 3 (34 per cent) car drivers leave their engine running and go back into the house while their car warms up and demists on cold days. Meanwhile, 1 in 10 (11 per cent) – or 3.6million drivers – do not wait at all, instead starting their journey with their head sticking out of the window, in order to see where they are going.

Meanwhile, more than 1 in 10 (12 per cent) admit to having driven one-handed while they hold a hot drink on cold mornings – meaning they are at risk of losing control of their vehicle.

A similar number (8 per cent) say they have driven without a seatbelt on cold days, in order to peel off layers of clothing as they eventually warm up.

Many cars may also not be equipped to tackle winter conditions due to poor winter maintenance, according to Auto Trader, as less than half (46 per cent) of motorists know where to put anti-freeze in their car, and only 1 in 2 of those on the roads (50 per cent) keep their cars topped up with it.

1 in 3 (33 per cent) don’t even own an ice scraper, whilst 1 in 4 (25 per cent) say they pour boiling water over their windscreen when it’s frozen, despite the risk of cracking the glass.

Auto Trader has created a guide to driving safely in winter, to help correct this knowledge gap.

A spokesperson at Auto Trader said: “We’re about to experience one of the coldest winters since the Big Freeze of 2010. In wintry conditions, we’d advise drivers to stay off the roads if possible and only travel if it’s unavoidable. That said, many people will still choose to drive or may have no choice but to make a journey.

“Clearly, many UK motorists have a real knowledge gap about how to prepare for and actually drive in cold temperatures and many are actually unknowingly breaking the law. What’s more worrying however, is that many could be putting themselves, their families and other drivers on the road at risk as a result.

“Each winter, we see road accidents happen that could have been avoided with a bit of preparation or knowledge, so this time of year is always a good time to remind drivers how to best prepare for treacherous weather and what the rules around driving in these conditions are. To help, we’ve created a guide to driving safely during winter which car drivers can use to reacquaint themselves with the rules and best practices of winter driving, to keep themselves and other road users safe.”