While we’ve enjoyed a particularly mild October it’s easy to forget that we’re rapidly approaching the coldest part of the year. Freezing nights bring with them the hazards of ice and snow on the roads, but while this not a new phenomenon in Britain’s topsy-turvy climate it could be made much worse this year as cash-strapped councils try to save money.
Warnings from the road safety charity the IAM suggest that Britain’s roads will become more hazardous for motorists as most councils are planning to cut back on their spending on vital winter road services, including salting and snow-ploughing, exposing drivers to dangerous driving conditions.
Despite inflation running at high levels there is a predicted cut of 3.6 percent* on spending for road salting and snow-ploughs across England. Sixty-seven councils appear to be reducing the amount they are spending on winter road services and 21 councils appear to have cut their budgets by over 30 per cent on last year’s figures.
Not all councils are so mercenary with such important services. After the dramatic snowfalls of the last two years 33 of them are increasing their budgets by more than ten per cent.
Figures from the Department of Transport make the dangers of snow and ice all too clear. Last year there was a 37 per cent increase in the number of cars overturning in slippery conditions.
“Councils must make contingency plans to ensure that essential supplies can always get through, no matter what the weather. This has to include dealing with large numbers of drivers stranded for hours with no access to heat or food.” IAM chief executive Simon Best
If you’re looking for tips on driving in winter conditions you can visit a new website, drivingadvice.org.uk, that offers independent advice on everything from starting off, driving in snow and ice and precautions you can take.
Some simple advice would be:
- Make sure your journey is essential. Don’t be tempted to head off into the snow just because you’ve run out of cigarettes.
- Don’t ignore police warnings about closed roads. They don’t shut roads for fun.
- Hit the brake pedal on ice and you’ll find it doesn’t do a lot to stop you, so double or even triple the distance to the vehicle in front.
- Try to keep moving, even if it is only at walking pace.
- Slow down before heading downhill and do not let your speed build up. It’s easier to keep speed low than to try and slow down once things get slippery.
- Start off gently, avoiding high revs, and use second gear to avoid wheelspin.
- If you feel a skid starting the main thing to remember is to take your foot off the pedals and steer. Only use the brake if you cannot steer out of trouble.
- Busy routes are more likely to be gritted, so plan your journeys around them. Try to avoid short cuts on minor roads and country lanes as they are less likely to be cleared or treated with salt.
- Always clear your windows, lights and mirrors before setting off. Don’t forget that snow on the bonnet can blow back onto your windscreen, so clear that off, and clear the roof to avoid snow being blown onto traffic following you.
- Make sure you have an emergency kit in your car just in case you get stuck. Make sure you have a charged up mobile phone, torch, food for energy, water and a blanket. For snow you also need a shovel with you.
- On longer journeys always let someone know you have set off and tell them your planned route.
- You can also improve car performance in snow and ice by fitting winter tyres. Winter tyres have a different tread pattern to give better grip and a rubber compound that remains soft in cold weather where normal tyres become hard and less grippy.
* Budget estimates from the Department for Communities and Local Government