Winter brings with it many additional driving hazards. But with planning and preparation these can be made much less of a risk.
There are three main elements to any winter driving scenario which we can influence: driving ability, vehicle preparedness and suitability, and journey planning.
Whilst older drivers have a wealth of experience, the decline in driving skills can be quite subtle. In winter this decline can be exacerbated by cold weather and an increase in joint pain and stiffness, impacting mobility and driving ability. A regular exercise regime and checks with the GP to confirm fitness to drive are very important.
- Eye test. Winter driving involves driving in poor light conditions. At 75 we may require 32 times the brightness we did at the age of 25 to see effectively. Regular eyesight tests are therefore essential.
- Medications. In winter we may need to take over-the-counter medicines for a cold. Check with the pharmacist whether these might make you feel drowsy, which would impact fitness to drive.
- Mature driver assessments. If winter driving makes you nervous, take a confidence-building assessment offered by local Council run schemes or organisations like IAM RoadSmart or RoSPA Driving Review may assist. Visit our Courses page to find such a scheme in your area.
If you have cognitive or mobility issues, then assessment should take place at a DVLA accredited Driving Mobility centre. Click here to find a centre nearest to you
- Highway Code. Make sure to be up-to-date with the latest changes. It is now illegal to touch a smartphone screen when driving, other than to make an emergency call. Visit our Highway Code page to see all about the Highway Code and recent changes.
- Sunflower Scheme. If you have a hidden disability, wear a Sunflower scheme lanyard and have a sticker on your car. This will discretely alert the police and emergency services that you may need a little more support. To learn more about Hidden Disabilities click here
2. VEHICLE PREPAREDNESS
Many older driver’s vehicles are only driven a few thousand miles a year, so extra-care needs to be taken in winter to ensure the vehicle’s preparedness to drive, if it is not driven regularly. If these checks seem a little daunting, then organisations such as Halfords offer a winter check service that might be worth considering.
- Battery health. Get a garage to check the condition of the battery. If the vehicle is only driven short distances, then it needs to be in good condition to hold its charge. Winter driving places higher demands on the battery with the extra-use of lights, heater, and wipers. RAC report battery failure is the number one reason for callouts.
- Lights operation. Check all the lights are working and are properly adjusted, not forgetting the front and rear fog lights. If the car has ‘daylight running lights’ (DLR), and you don’t have automatic headlights, in gloomy conditions make sure to turn on your headlights. The DLR function does not include rear lights.
- Tyre condition. Check tyre pressures are correct, and the tyres have sufficient tread. In the wet at 50mph a tyre with 1.6mm of tread, the legal limit, takes 25% longer to stop than tyres with 3mm of tread. We recommend replacing tyres at 3mm.
- Wiper blades wear. Wipers work extra-hard in winter due to grit from the roads, so check the wipers clear the screen without smears. If they must be replaced then invest in a premium brand, which consistently come out top in comparative tests. When de-icing your car lift the blades off the screen to ensure they are not frozen to the screen.
- Fluids level. Check the windscreen fluid is topped up, and with the correct rating for sub-zero temperatures. RAC recommend a pre-mix, effective down to -15C. Most modern cars use a long-life antifreeze but check if it might need changing.
- Check the car has a can of de-icer and an ice scrapper. Allow an extra ten minutes before a journey to make sure all the car windows and mirrors are de-iced and demisted. Use the air conditioning to dry the air in the car and speed up demisting. Make sure the inside of the windows are clean to help minimise headlight glare. Don’t leave the car idling unattended – thieves are watching for this opportunity!
- In-car equipment. This should include a warm blanket, mobile phone charger, torch, warning triangle, and a high visibility fluorescent bib in case occupants must get out of the car on an unlit rural road. Also, keep a pair of dry shoes in the car so your feet don’t slip on the pedals.
- Smart phone app. If you have a smart-phone download the What3Words app. This identifies any location by three words which can be given to the emergency or recovery services. This is particularly helpful on roads with few obvious landmarks.
- Emergency information. Have a Lions Club ‘message in a bottle’ with personal and medical details in the glove compartment to assist emergency services.
- Refresh knowledge. Take time to re-read your car manual to refresh knowledge of how the car’s comfort and safety systems function. There may be advanced driving assistance systems you are not familiar with.
- Weather reports. Check if heavy rain, fog, floods, icy conditions, or snow are forecast. No journey is worth the risk.
- Safe routes. Use online map services to plan your route to minimise more demanding roads. Use motorways or dual carriageways as much as possible – these are the safest classification of roads and are likely to have been gritted. Minimise routes with difficult junctions. The most frequent setting for older driver collisions is turning right at T-junctions. (If you break down on a motorway DO NOT put out a warning triangle as this could increase you risk of being knocked down.)
- Safe times. If possible avoid rush hours – statistically the riskiest times for older drivers.
- Safe light conditions. Minimise driving into low sun or driving at night. If glasses are worn make sure these have an anti-reflective coating to help reduce headlamp glare. If driving in low sunlight, consider wearing glasses with photochromic lenses, which automatically darken when exposed to sunlight. If glasses are required to drive, these must have prescription lenses.
- Adequate fuel/charge. If driving an electric car and this is your first winter of ownership take even more care to identify where charging points are available. The extra demands of winter driving with heating, lights and windscreen wipers can reduce battery range by 15-20%. With a petrol or diesel car make sure to always have at least a quarter of tank of fuel in case there are unexpected delays.
- Never rush. Allow time for rest stops, or even an overnight stopover on longer journeys. It is better to arrive late than not at all.
- Report poor road condition. If there are concerns about the local road network, report these to the local and county councillors. A strong body of evidence of public opinion is a major factor in achieving improvements to the road infrastructure.
Driving Safely, in Winter, requires:
PREPARATION – PREPARATION – PREPARATION
Thanks to Nigel Lloyd-Jones (Co-lead Older Drivers Forum for Gloucestershire) for creating this useful, information.