How to avoid skidding into trouble

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Last month, heavy snow in the lead up to Christmas left many motorists in snow chaos misery. Unfortunately, the freezing winter weather combined with shorter daylight hours resulted in  immense difficulties on the roads. The AA saw a huge increase in incidents and car insurance claims as drivers fell victim to the harsh conditions.

Although all seems fairly clear on the snow front as we settle into 2011 – we’re not out quite of the woods yet. January has already brought snow to some northern areas of the UK and we could well see another cold snap come our way.  So, just in case,  here are a few tips for driving safely in bad weather.

Heed the warnings:

Listen to local radio and TV reports and check online for traffic and met office news. If the advice is to stay off the roads, the best thing to do is to postpone plans if possible and avoid travelling. Even though it may look fine to travel where you are – check your destination and the forecast for that day. You may set off fine but then get stuck later on.

If you must travel, try to stick to larger, main roads that are more likely to have been treated with grit.

Consider winter tyres:

Winter tyres are made from a rubber compound that performs well at temperatures below 7 ◦C.  This means that your vehicle is less likely to lose traction in icy conditions.  There has been some confusion around winter tyres affecting car insurance premiums. Some drivers are worried that insurance companies will consider them a ‘modification’ to the vehicle and therefore increase the premiums as a result. Generally, this is not true. As long as you fit tyres that meet the car manufacturer’s specifications and they’re professionally fitted – it shouldn’t negatively impact your cover costs.

Good maintenance:

Try to keep your car in peak condition by having it serviced regularly. Ensure that the battery is fully charged, check your oil and fill up your washer fluid before setting off on your journey. Also, ensure you have good visability through all windows and that mirrors are clear of grime and frost. If you haven’t invested in winter tyres, it’s particularly important to check that all four of your tyres are in good condition. This will involve keeping an eye on the pressure and tread depth.

Also, thoroughly clean all your car’s lights and fill up a full tank of petrol before setting of in bad weather.

Pack some essentials:

Unfortunately, not matter how careful your planning – sometimes extreme weather can hit you unexpectedly. It’s a good idea to pack a few essentials in case you get stuck in your car. Remember to take de-icer, ice scraper, some warm clothes and blanket as well as a torch and small shovel. It could also be wise to pack a bottle of water, some food and even a flask of hot drink – just in case you’re trapped somewhere without access to provisions.

Breakdown cover:

If you do break down on a icy, cold winter’s day – you could be pretty helpless without emergency breakdown cover. You can normally buy this as a stand alone policy or bundle it in with your car insurance purchase and an added extra. If you have this type of cover, make sure you keep all details of the policy and any emergency contact numbers in the car with you in case you need them.

Slow and steady:

If you absolutely have to take the car out, make sure you drive extra slowly in icy conditions and leave a good distance between you and the vehicle in front (around a 10 second gap). Stopping distances will increase in bad weather, so you need to take this into account. Sometimes, there will be patches of black ice on the road that won’t be visibly evident, so still take care on roads that look as though they have been cleared. If you do get into a skid, do not slam on the breaks but try and gently steer your car in the direction of the skid.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Policy Expert.