How to ensure your car is road safe in Winter: experts reveal the crucial checks you should be doing to avoid breaking the law

Experts warn that sub-zero arctic blast is on the way from the North as the UK is expected to see temperatures slide into single figures this week. As the weather is set to get chillier, drivers are being warned to take extra care in their vehicles.

According to the Green Flag and Brake report on safe driving and vehicle maintenance, around a fifth of drivers don’t know how to check brakes, fluids, or tyre tread depth. Shockingly, a fifth state they have knowingly driven an unroadworthy vehicle posing an immediate risk to the safety of the driver and other road users.

With the AA recently issuing frost and fog weather warnings, drivers are being reminded of the importance of vehicle maintenance in keeping themselves and pedestrians safe.

Stephen Halloran, Solicitor at Lawtons, criminal law firm, London looks at the automotive repair laws and car safety regulations designed to keep drivers and their cars safe on the road this winter.

Check your brakes
If your brakes are defective and you’re involved in an accident or stopped by the police, you’ll be held responsible, whether or not you knew they weren’t functioning. Even if just one part of the braking system is out of action, you could end up with a £2,500 fine and three points on your licence. Checking your brakes is vital.
How you should do it will depend upon the car you drive though: older cars may not have a monitoring device that automatically detects when brake pads are worn down. In such cases, you’ll need a mechanic to check your brake pads and discs for you. You should have them checked every six months, or more often if you do lots of mileage.

Keep your tyres up to scratch

When you think about the friction that your tyres deal with, it’s no surprise that tyres are one of the most common culprits for cars failing MOTs.
According to the law, your tyre tread depth must be a minimum of 1.6 mm across the middle of the tyre. Yet most tyre and car safety experts recommend changing your tyres if the tread dips below 3mm. When it’s 1.6mm, the required braking distance on a wet road is 44% more than it is with 3mm of tread, giving you significantly less grip.

Not maintaining the correct tyre pressure can also prove dangerous, sometimes resulting in blowouts, so it’s always a good idea to regularly check your tyres’ pressure, too. This is particularly important during the winter, when a 10C drop in temperature can lead to a 1-2 PSI decrease in your tyre pressure.
If you’re found to have below the required 1.6mm of tread, you could face a fine of £2,500 and three penalty points per tyre. It can also invalidate your car insurance, which can lead to a maximum of six penalty points and a variable fine, as well as fees for retrieving your vehicle from a car pound.

Make sure your lights work

With darker mornings and nights drawing in, the winter is no time to drive with broken headlights, reversing lights or indicators. As well as the obvious safety risks, broken lights also make your number plates less visible, which is another offence.
If you’re spotted driving with a broken light, you’ll receive a fixed penalty notice, which will cost you between £50 and £100. You usually have 28 days to pay it, and sometimes the fine is reduced if you pay within 14 days. Fail to settle the matter after 28 days and a further warning and you could be prosecuted, potentially resulting in larger fines and court costs.

If a broken light – or another defect – is found to be a contributing factor in an accident, charges can be upgraded to the more serious careless or dangerous driving.

If you’re involved in an accident

With adverse weather conditions and shorter daylight hours, winter can be a more dangerous time to be on the road. A 2018 study by the RAC found that accidents rose by 5% after the end of British Summer Time. According to Brake and Direct Line survey of UK drivers, 2019 66% of people believe that driving disqualifications should be issued more frequently to help make the roads safer.
If you are involved in an accident, it’s vital to stop at the scene if you know or suspect a person or animal has been injured, or if there’s damage to another vehicle or property. If you don’t stop under these circumstances, you’re committing a criminal offence.

The Road Traffic Act 1988 requires you to take ‘reasonable endeavours’ to exchange details with other drivers or owners of damaged property. You also need to inform the police and your insurer within 24 hours, even if you don’t intend to make a claim against your policy.

Failing to stop following an accident and failing to report an accident are both serious offences. If you’re the registered owner of a vehicle that has failed to stop at an accident, you’ll receive a notice of intended prosecution (NIP), requiring you to identify the driver within 28 days, after which time you could be arrested and interviewed as a suspect.

The consequences for failing to report an accident can include between 5 and 10 penalty points, disqualification from driving or even a prison sentence. This does not extend to witnesses, however, who are under no obligation to stop at the scene or report an accident.

All things considered, a little extra vehicle maintenance is a wise move as we enter winter, potentially saving you both money and injury.

A spokesperson at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), said:

Driving in the winter is very different from other times of the year. In very bad conditions, avoid driving completely, unless you absolutely have to make the journey and driving is the only option. It’s a good idea to have your vehicle fully serviced before winter starts and have the anti-freeze tested.

If you can’t have it serviced, then do your own checks. In particular, make sure that your:

• Battery is fully charged
• Fluids are kept topped up, especially windscreen wash
• Fuel tank is near to full to ensure that you do not run out
• Windows and mirrors are clear of snow and ice
• Windscreen, wiper blades and other windows are clean

Where to get more information

Further information on winter driving safety can be found here:

Brake Road Safety Charity
The Road Safety Trust
Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents

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