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Winter road safety advice for drivers

By James Billings
Senior Risk Manager

Winter is coming… And it’s at this time of year that drivers of all vehicles need to be prepared and take the most care.

Figures from Highways England show that more than 100 people are killed or seriously injured every year by motorists driving too close to the vehicle in front. Inappropriate speed and tailgating are a problem, and even more so when the roads are wet, icy or foggy.

Drivers of a certain age may remember the road safety campaign from the 1970s advising that ‘only a fool breaks the two second rule'. It’s still good advice. As you see the vehicle in front pass a fixed point such as a sign or a bridge, say to yourself, ‘only a fool breaks the two second rule’. It takes about two seconds to say, so if you pass the same fixed point before you’ve finished saying it, you’re driving too close and need to allow more room. If the road is wet or icy you should increase the gap even more, and if you’re driving a large vehicle like a lorry or coach it’s advisable to use a four second rule.

Some other ways that you can keep moving safely this winter include:

  • Check weather forecasts and travel news before setting off and, if need be, allow extra time for delays.
  • Plan your route so you can stay on main roads as much as possible and away from potential hazards. Your sat-nav may not always know the road conditions ahead, so use your judgement.
  • Consider letting a friend or relative know your travel plans and route just in case you run into difficulty.
  • Don’t drive off until snow and ice are cleared off windscreen, windows and mirrors. And ensure that lights and reflectors are working, clean and snow free.
  • To avoid snow sliding down your windscreen while driving, clear snow off the vehicle roof if you have safe access.
  • Make sure you know how to turn on the fog lights in your vehicle.

Check your vehicle

Battery problems are the most common cause of winter breakdowns but keeping your vehicle in good condition with regular maintenance should help prevent this issue.

Some other things to note include:

  • Keep enough fuel in the tank. Stop/start conditions can drain fuel quicker than normal driving.
  • Keep an ice scraper and de–icer in the vehicle so you can keep the windscreen and windows clear while out and about.
  • Top-up the windscreen washer fluid so you can keep your windscreen clean.
  • Make sure that tyres have at least 3mm of tread and check the air pressures to keep them in line with manufacturers recommendations.
  • If freezing temperatures are expected overnight, keep windscreen wipers switched off in park position. If the blades are set to ‘automatic’ they may try to move on ignition and may be damaged if they are frozen to the windscreen.

Watch out for thieves

On cold winter mornings, a common way that drivers defrost windscreens is by letting the engine idle and warm up the car. However, a worrying number of drivers admit to leaving their vehicle unattended with the engine running while it warms up.

You may have just popped indoors to pick up a bag or finish a cup of tea, but once you’re away from the vehicle a thief can strike. Thieves drive around on cold mornings looking for running engines left unattended. This crime is so widespread that it now has its own name – ‘Frosting’.

If the vehicle is stolen in this way, you may not be able to claim on your insurance as many policies exclude theft where keys are left in the vehicle. Always follow the number one rule: ‘Never leave your vehicle unattended with the engine running.’

Stay safe around floods

If you should come to a flooded road, stop and don’t attempt to drive through water if you’re unsure of the depth. Parking up and watching any other vehicles try to negotiate the flood can be a good way of checking to see how deep it is. It’s not worth the risk. Vehicles can become unstable in moving water. Just 12 inches of water moving at only 6mph is enough to float the average family saloon.

If you decide to risk it, drive slowly and steadily through the water and try to avoid creating a large bow wave. If possible, stay in the centre where the road is at its highest point. Once through, if you’ve driven through water up to the wheel rims or higher, test your brakes on a clear patch of road at low speed at the earliest opportunity. If they’re not stopping the vehicle as they should, dry them by pressing gently on the brake pedal with your left foot while maintaining speed with your right foot. 

In the event of an incident

Hopefully you won’t experience any vehicle problems, but if you do break down, find a safe and well-lit place to stop. Leave your hazard warning lights on and find a safe place to stand away from the vehicle to wait for help. And with temperatures dropping it’s important that you try to stay warm. Keep some warm winter gear in the vehicle, such as a coat, scarf, gloves, a hat and a warm blanket or two.

If you’re involved in an incident and need to claim on your insurance, it’s important that you report it early, ideally the same day. Reporting a claim early can reduce the time dealing with the claim and can help you to receive any claim payments faster.


Stay safe this winter by downloading our free fact sheets for more information:

Winter Driving

Preventing ‘De-frosting’ Vehicle Crime

Driving in Fog

Driving in Wet Conditions

Driving on Flooded Roads

Using Snow Socks


Technical expertise, customer-focused service and strategic risk management have established QBE as a leader in commercial motor insurance. You can find out more about how QBE helps fleet customers manage risk at

Your contact

Your contact

James Billings

James Billings

Practice Leader - Risk Solutions

Tel: +44 (20) 71054952