British drivers "dangerously complacent" in winter conditions, survey finds

Brake and Churchill urge motorists to put safety first during the winter months

by Simon_MacMichael   December 20, 2012  

Cars in snow (copyright Simon MacMichael)

With the shortest day of the year tomorrow heralding for many the start of winter, road safety charity Brake and insurer Churchill have published the a survey that shows the extent to which British motorists are “dangerously complacent” regarding their ability to drive safely in ice, snow and rain.

The results are published in a week identified by another insurer, The Co-operative Insurance, as giving rise to more motor insurance claims than any other in the year.

According to the survey of 1,000 drivers carried out on behalf of Brake and Churchill by Redshift Research:

Only one in six drivers (16 per cent) follow safety advice and avoid driving in snow

Nearly one in three (31 per cent) will drive in snow even if it’s heavy and a non-essential journey

Nine in ten (91 per cent) underestimate stopping distances in icy conditions by half

Half (47 per cent) fail to leave a four second gap between them and the vehicle in front in wet weather.

While those findings provide evidence that motorists underestimate the potential dangers of winter driving, the research also finds that they are worried about safety, but single out other drivers as presenting a hazard.

Almost all respondents, 95 per cent, believe many or most drivers travel too close to the vehicle in front in snow and ice, and 92% agree that many or most go too fast in snow and ice.

Brake and Churchill have appealed to drivers to pledge themselves to safe driving this winter, and have been joined in their appeal by Sheila Quinn, whose 24-year-old son Paul Dobson died of head injuries on Boxing Day 2007, four days after the car in which he was travelling skidded on ice. 

A second passenger in the car was also killed, and their friend Barry Woods who was driving the vehicle was sentenced to five and a half years in a young offenders’ institution.

“Paul’s death was utterly devastating,” said Ms Quinn. “I went through agony that Christmas and New Year, and now every year at Christmas I’m reminded of how needless and tragic his death was.

“Too many drivers overestimate their abilities and underestimate the dangers of bad weather. I want to get the message out that drivers need to take winter seriously. Please slow down and keep your distance if caught out in rain, ice or snow, and please, if you don’t need to drive, don’t.”

It’s a message that is being underlined by Brake and Churchill through what they call an A, B, C of safe driving in winter.

Brake and Churchill are urging drivers to follow the A, B, C of safe driving in winter.

Avoid driving in snow and other treacherous conditions. Never set off when it’s snowing or forecast to, and avoid driving if you possibly can in other bad conditions like fog, heavy rain and ice. Consider alternatives such as walking or using public transport if available. Speak to your employer in advance about working from home when weather is very bad, especially if you live in a rural area prone to snow or floods.

Be prepared. Make sure your vehicle is well maintained, and tyres have a tread depth of at least 3mm. Check forecasts and plan your route to avoid roads likely to be more risky and allow plenty of time. Pack a winter driving kit in case you’re caught out. This should include: an ice scraper or de-icer; torch; cloths; a blanket and warm clothes; food and drink; first-aid kit; spade; warning triangle; and high-visibility vest. Always take a fully charged phone in case of emergencies, but don’t be tempted to use it when driving.

Careful manoeuvring. If you do get caught out driving in treacherous conditions, you need to slow right down increase the distance behind the vehicle in front. In rain your stopping distance doubles, so keep a four second gap. In snow or icy conditions stopping distances increase by as much as ten times so you need to drop right back. Keep careful look out for people on foot and bikes who may be harder to spot. Avoid harsh braking and acceleration and carry out manoeuvres slowly and with extra care.

Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive of Brake, commented: “Every year we support many families whose lives have been torn apart by bad weather crashes, so we’re calling on drivers to do everything they can to help avoid tragedies this winter.

“The most important message is to err on the side of caution and not drive if it’s snowing, forecast to snow, or there are other dangerous conditions. Ice, snow, heavy rain and fog make driving incredibly risky; stopping distances double in the wet and can increase ten-fold in ice and snow, and if you can’t see clearly you can’t react to hazards.

“We are also urging drivers to be prepared. Listen to forecasts, and make sure your vehicle is properly maintained and kitted out. If you get caught in bad weather the most critical thing is to slow right down and keep your distance, bearing in mind it will take you much longer to stop in an emergency.”

Matt Owen, head of public relations at Churchill, added: “It is really important that during winter, drivers do not assume that they can drive at the same speeds and in the same style that they would in fair and dry conditions.

“If conditions are treacherous, drivers should seriously consider not using their car. They should ask themselves how essential their journey is and whether it is worth the risk and if it can wait until conditions improve.”

Brake is also urging the government to minimise the danger to road users during the coming months by:

Running national awareness campaigns, encouraging drivers not to set off in snow, to slow right down and leave a safe distance if they get caught out, and to keep winter driving kits in vehicles

Implementing more variable speed limits on motorways and lower limits on rural roads

Working with employers to encourage good road safety practices, including allowing employees to work from home when bad weather makes commuting risky

Encouraging local authorities to ensure they are ready for winter by stocking up on grit and planning for road clearing. It should encourage them to ensure paths and pavements are clear as well as roads to enable pedestrians safe passage

Working with major public transport providers, alongside local authorities, to ensure public transport is a safe and available alternative to driving during bad weather.

Riding a bike in the ice and snow of course brings about an entirely different set of challenges compared to those faced when driving a car. Read our tips here.

 

22 user comments

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I am curious; recently Road CC reported a story where a motorist hit and killed a cyclist whilst driving a defective car with bald tyres; and he ran off. But was eventually sentanced to 8 months? This chap loses control on ice and gets 4 and a half years? Surely there must have been some unreported aggravating features; I have tried Google'ing his name?

posted by SideBurn [787 posts]
20th December 2012 - 5:56

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Trying to achieve targets, I went out too early on a frosty morning recently and got onto sheet ice going up a tree-lined hill. Amazingly I got wheelspin from the back wheel but managed to clip out and stop without falling off. I should know better as I came off on ice one New Years Eve a few years ago. With all the standing water about on the roads, hope others keep vigilant.

New Forester

posted by Forester [86 posts]
20th December 2012 - 6:40

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love the "4 second gap" bit .... try that and you'll get
every other driver in christendom diving into the gap Angry

still on the 3rd switch-back of Bwlch !

posted by therevokid [698 posts]
20th December 2012 - 9:06

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every other driver in christendom diving into the gap

"Only a fool breaks the 2-second rule" I don't know the rhyme for poor road conditions, but it is doubled to 4-seconds.

So what if people overtake and fill the gap? Drop back. You would still be making progress toward your destination and you would also have the smug satisfaction of knowing that your 'defensive driving' skills are making you and those around you safer.

posted by Hasis [36 posts]
20th December 2012 - 9:33

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'Never set off when it’s snowing or forecast to'

This must be some sort of joke, presumably written by someone who lives where it rarely snows?

Three winters ago I wouldn't have left the house for 10 weeks.

posted by Chris James [182 posts]
20th December 2012 - 10:30

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one day last week I saw 5 cars in various states of distress on the same stretch of road near our house - including a Lexus that had spun and gone into a ditch backwards and a van smashed into a road sign sideways with 2 other cars nose to tail behind it.

The road is a wide, well surfaced urban dual with a 40mph limit but it was clearly iced over and everyone would have had to scrape the windscreen off that morning. Despite this there was clearly a big enough pool of idiots with with delusions of invincibility. Everyone else was doing 20 or under and getting along the road just fine.

Made me think that perhaps crashed and burned out cars should be left periodically the roadside - like a corpse in a gibbet - to remind the idiots of their mortality.

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posted by joemmo [792 posts]
20th December 2012 - 10:46

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"Brake and Churchill ... have been joined in their appeal by Sheila Quinn, whose 24-year-old son Paul Dobson died of head injuries on Boxing Day 2007, four days after the car in which he was travelling skidded on ice. "

This is incorrectly reported.

The correct way of reporting this is "...Paul Dobson, who was not wearing a helmet...".

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posted by Bez [371 posts]
20th December 2012 - 11:05

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Headline revision,
British drivers "dangerously complacent".

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posted by Joselito [133 posts]
20th December 2012 - 11:11

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SideBurn wrote:
I am curious; recently Road CC reported a story where a motorist hit and killed a cyclist whilst driving a defective car with bald tyres; and he ran off. But was eventually sentanced to 8 months? This chap loses control on ice and gets 4 and a half years? Surely there must have been some unreported aggravating features; I have tried Google'ing his name?

http://menmedia.co.uk/manchestereveningnews/news/s/1093717_jailed_for_de...

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3083 posts]
20th December 2012 - 11:24

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Years ago I remember it snowed heavily for the first time in my memory and I was driving a Renault Clio with Michelin tyres. It had no problem going up or down any of the big hills around here and the brakes and steering worked just fine.

One year later we had the same amount of snow and I tried driving the same road but on Continental tyres.

The thing that worries me is that the Michelin tyres were £120 each and the rubbish Continentals were £90 each, but still you get people complaining on cycling forums that a £40 mountain bike tyre is more expensive than what came on their car Confused

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posted by Municipal Waste [190 posts]
20th December 2012 - 11:53

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These figures are being used to make it looks like drivers are dangerous and don't care about weather conditions, but actually I think those first two stats show quite effectively that people do modify their behaviour when it is snowing.

Only one in six drivers (16 per cent) follow safety advice and avoid driving in snow

Nearly one in three (31 per cent) will drive in snow even if it’s heavy and a non-essential journey

Some drivers (16%) will not drive at all when there is a bit of snow on the roads. Fair enough.

The majority of drivers will not drive when the snow is heavy, but some will. Their journeys might not be absolutely essential, but if they have winter tyres or snow chains fitted to a suitable vehicle and drive sensibly then what's the problem?

Blimey, people modifying their behavior because of the weather? Whatever next?

There's always the odd idiot who thinks they're an invincible rally driver, but then they're the same 'menace' that tear past us at 70mph down dry country lanes in summer.

Same issue, different weather. Not news.

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posted by andyspaceman [218 posts]
20th December 2012 - 13:21

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Municipal Waste wrote:
Years ago I remember it snowed heavily for the first time in my memory and I was driving a Renault Clio with Michelin tyres. It had no problem going up or down any of the big hills around here and the brakes and steering worked just fine.

One year later we had the same amount of snow and I tried driving the same road but on Continental tyres.

The thing that worries me is that the Michelin tyres were £120 each and the rubbish Continentals were £90 each, but still you get people complaining on cycling forums that a £40 mountain bike tyre is more expensive than what came on their car Confused

Are the tyre the same width/aspect ratio... Were the Continetals on the same Clio or different car.

I had a set of 185 wide £25 Prestilvo on an old Corsa a few years that were stunning in snow. My 215 wide £100 Rainsports on the Swift however are lethal. Yet in "normal" condition the opposite is true.

posted by Yorkshie Whippet [289 posts]
20th December 2012 - 13:28

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Yorkshie Whippet wrote:
Municipal Waste wrote:
Years ago I remember it snowed heavily for the first time in my memory and I was driving a Renault Clio with Michelin tyres. It had no problem going up or down any of the big hills around here and the brakes and steering worked just fine.

One year later we had the same amount of snow and I tried driving the same road but on Continental tyres.

The thing that worries me is that the Michelin tyres were £120 each and the rubbish Continentals were £90 each, but still you get people complaining on cycling forums that a £40 mountain bike tyre is more expensive than what came on their car Confused

Are the tyre the same width/aspect ratio... Were the Continetals on the same Clio or different car.

I had a set of 185 wide £25 Prestilvo on an old Corsa a few years that were stunning in snow. My 215 wide £100 Rainsports on the Swift however are lethal. Yet in "normal" condition the opposite is true.

You also need to consider the flexibility of the rubber. Winter tyres (common, and occasionally legally required, in continental Northern Europe) have deeper treads and are "squishier" at low temperatures. Geometric surface area and actual contact area can be quite different.

The winter tyres on my family's car in Germany are apparently safer than standard tyres when the temperature gets below 5⁰C.

posted by Henz [40 posts]
20th December 2012 - 13:49

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notfastenough wrote:
SideBurn wrote:
I am curious; recently Road CC reported a story where a motorist hit and killed a cyclist whilst driving a defective car with bald tyres; and he ran off. But was eventually sentanced to 8 months? This chap loses control on ice and gets 4 and a half years? Surely there must have been some unreported aggravating features; I have tried Google'ing his name?

http://menmedia.co.uk/manchestereveningnews/news/s/1093717_jailed_for_death_by_dangerous_driving

Christ, have you read the post by his sister? Awful.

posted by farrell [1395 posts]
20th December 2012 - 14:11

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Yeah, grim isn't it.

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3083 posts]
20th December 2012 - 14:32

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Quote Almost all respondents, 95 per cent, believe many or most drivers travel too close to the vehicle in front in snow and ice, and 92% agree that many or most go too fast in snow and ice. That just about sums up driver mentality in this country "it's not me it's all the other idiots" I have yet to meet a driver who is honest enough/prepared to say well I do make mistakes/misjudge situations occassionally

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posted by FATBEGGARONABIKE [583 posts]
20th December 2012 - 15:26

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It always astounds me that so many drivers have no idea that when driving on snow they should slow down and leave a bigger gap between themselves and the vehicle in front. There is a road junction opposite my house and the surface is rather poor and potholed. I frequently see vehicles getting stuck or losing control when the weather conditions are poor. Too many people seem to assume that by booting the accelerator they'll somehow move once they lose traction in one wheel and it spins out.

I leave the car parked as much as possible when it's snowing. I don't see why people wouldn't consider leaving the car at home unless absolutely necessary. But there are some lazy people around.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2172 posts]
20th December 2012 - 15:42

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notfastenough wrote:
Yeah, grim isn't it.

Thank you for that link; it is grim. It is interesting that many of the comments are echoed on this site, but for cycling related incidents. I suspect the sentence reflects the fact that this is his second offence. Interesting/frightening that he will be out soon, hopefully a changed man....

posted by SideBurn [787 posts]
20th December 2012 - 18:09

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'Never set off when it’s snowing or forecast to'

Don't think I or anyone else round here would have a job for very long if we stuck to that!

posted by davkt [34 posts]
20th December 2012 - 19:26

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i do wonder about the non essential journey bit, is driving to work essential or not?

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posted by mrmo [1064 posts]
20th December 2012 - 20:15

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I think it was the winter before last - and the one before that as well - that we had a real cold snap and loads of snow. A steep lane near us became an impromptu toboggan slope, and it even attracted out adults with skis, who said it was great to have a piste near home, even if there was no ski lift to get back up.

Yes, the conditions were that "bad" (from a motoring perspective), all the local kids were out there.

This particular lane had Police Stop signs posted at top and bottom.

And you know what, we still had fuckwits in their 4x4s trying to negotiate it - for the kicks as far as I can tell as there are alternative routes. One guy tried to get up in a BMW X5, and it just wouldn't do it. Another, also a X5 as I recall, went down - and lost control, slithering down the slope and crashing into a postbox on the opposite side of the road at the bottom. Luckily, a parent at the top shouted down and we got the kids to safety.

I bought a 4x4 just before the first of the hard winters we have had lately - 2009? It was a Landrover which can at least handle the conditions better than the Chelsea tractors like X5s. Even so, we left the car parked in the drive almost throughout the cold snap, not only because we weren't convinced that even a LR would get us out of a mess, but because the niftiest 4x4 in the world won't protect you from all the fuckwits who drive recklessly in snow in non4x4s with insufficient tread on their tyres.

Fortunately there were relatively few of them. I have never seen so many people in the supermarket with just baskets - but when you have to walk home with your shopping, you have to take not to buy more than you can carry!

posted by Paul M [308 posts]
20th December 2012 - 21:22

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Even without snow and ice, the two weeks running up to Christmas are horrendous for driving in. Too many Christmas shopping zombies who are too worried about their to-do list than actually concentrate on driving- on average my 26 mile each way journey to work has saw me avoiding about three incidents each day. I was hoping to catch up on some miles on my bike tomorrow, the first day of my Christmas holidays but I live behind a big shopping centre so am having second thoughts because the bloody robots behind the steering wheels have had trouble enough with other cars. At least snow and ice mean people have to concentrate harder and forget about their shopping while they are driving.

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posted by Otis Bragg [113 posts]
21st December 2012 - 0:47

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