Road safety during spring, summer, autumn and winter

Each season can pose its own particular challenges for motorists, which is why it makes good sense to be prepared for whatever the weather can throw at you.

Whether it’s the significant problems which ice and snow can create or the unpredictable conditions of spring, there are steps which drivers can take to make sure they get around safely.

Follow our simple seasonal guides below for vehicle maintenance tips and driving techniques which will help you stay safe on the roads all year round.

Spring

The worst of winter is over, so now is the time to assess and repair any damage caused during the long, hard cold spell.

Giving your car a thorough spring clean from top to bottom, inside and out, as well as the chassis underneath, can help remove corrosive salt deposits as well as all the dirt, grime and residues which can cause unseen damage your vehicle.

Tyres - Keeping a regular check on the condition of your tyres should always be a top priority. The legal minimum tread depth for cars in the UK is 1.6mm and you can check this by holding a 20p in the groove – if the tread obscures the outer band then it’s legal. It’s just as important to look for damage to tyres such as uneven tread wear, splits or cracks in the tyre walls.

Changes in temperature can impact on tyre pressures too so check yours are at the correct level. If you find your tyre deflates over a short period of time it could be down to a puncture or other fault which will require further investigation.

Maintenance – Regular checks of your oil, coolant and screenwash levels will mean you can identify any issues before they turn into problems. Spring is a great time to get into the habit of checking these fluids on a weekly or fortnightly basis. 

It is also worth giving your wiper blades some attention to ensure the freezing conditions over winter haven’t left them damaged and in need of replacement.

Weather conditions – Spring in the UK is notorious for its unpredictable and changeable nature. It’s possible to see frost, glorious sunshine, torrential downpours and hailstones in a single day. Wet roads can dramatically increase stopping distances which means it’s important to reduce speeds and leave a bigger gap with vehicles in front.

Aquaplaning can occur when your vehicle loses traction as all wheels are lifted off the road surface on a cushion of water. If this happens, avoid sudden steering wheel movements or heavy braking – ease off the accelerator, let the vehicle find its own path, and, when traction returns, use light steering wheel movements to steer into the correct direction. Braking should also be done with light pumping actions unless you have ABS, then brake normally.

Animals on the roads – At a time when everything is growing and bursting into life, spring can mean animals such as deer, badgers and foxes suddenly appearing on the roads. Motorists can take care by being extra vigilant at night and during the dusk and dawn as this is when many animals are most active.

Summer

Dry and hot periods can present their own unique problems for motorists.

Tyres - High temperatures can aggravate existing damage to rubber tyres. If your tyres are underinflated this can add to the problem by increasing friction and heat and cause weak spots to fail resulting in a blow-out or puncture.

Overheating – It is worth checking over coolant systems ahead of the summer months to detect any issues around coolant levels, leaking hoses or broken fans. If any of these are faulty and overheating occurs, the damage caused could result in expensive repairs. Check your coolant reservoir level regularly and look out for wet or white staining on coolant hoses which might indicate a leak.

Other road users – Being vigilant in the summer should include looking out for large, slow-moving traffic such as tractors and construction vehicles. If you get stuck behind a slow moving vehicle be patient - dips in roads, bends and junctions can hide oncoming vehicles, so don’t overtake unless it's absolutely essential.

Vulnerable road users such as horse riders, cyclists and walkers are also more likely to be sharing the highways with you during warmer periods and these should be passed slowly giving them plenty of space.

Weather conditions – While the summer may mean the more extreme weather of winter is a distant memory, glare from the sun can be a real hazard. Being dazzled unexpectedly can be dangerous so keeping a pair of sunglasses to hand is sensible.

It’s also wise to keep a bottle of water in the car. Becoming dehydrated runs the risk of making you feel tired and dizzy, and can also cause cramps – all of which threaten your ability to drive safely.

Autumn

As the trees change colour and temperatures start to dip, autumn has its own set of challenges including the slippery road conditions created by vast quantities of fallen leaves.

Maintenance – Drivers who park their cars anywhere near trees will undoubtedly find leaves have a habit of getting into vents which lead under the bonnet. It’s advisable to remove these as they can block up the trays and cause water from rainfall to pool and overflow onto electrical components.

With autumn comes shorter days which also means an increased reliance on the car battery to power lights and heaters. If your battery is faulty or coming to the end of its life, it could end up flat leaving you at the roadside. It’s advisable to change car batteries every five years to ensure you don’t fall foul of one of the leading causes of breakdowns.

Despite its name, antifreeze is useful all year round as it not only prevents water from freezing, it also raises the boiling point of engine coolant to prevent overheating, as well as protecting engines from corrosion. If you haven’t already, autumn is a good time to ensure your car has its antifreeze at an optimum level.

Seasonal conditions - Fallen leaves offer the potential of significant risks for drivers. Firstly, if there is a large amount of leaves they can hide hazards such as potholes or debris in the road. Secondly, when leaves get wet and compacted they can become as slippery as ice. In both instances the best course of action is to drive in a way which suits the conditions – keep your speed down and increase the distance between you and the vehicle in front.

Autumn can often bring with it thick mist and fog. With poor visibility, drivers should assess whether it is safe to be driving at all or whether they should pull over. Using dipped headlights and fog lights when appropriate can certainly make travel safer so check your lights are in good working order before setting off.

This time of year also sees the sun sitting low in the sky, which can make visibility tricky. Keeping those sunglasses from summer close to hand is advisable as is keeping your windscreen clean, inside and out.

Winter

When we talk about difficult driving conditions we immediately think of winter – and for good reason. 

The combination of treacherous weather conditions along with low temperatures and short days can prove tricky for the most capable drivers.

Maintenance – All aspects of regular maintenance which are important throughout the year are crucial in winter. You don’t want your car to let you down when you’re miles from home during a cold snap. This should include regular checks on the condition of your tyres, as well as the levels of your engine oil, coolant and screenwasher fluid. Making sure your lights and battery are in good working order is also important.

Because of the increased probability of unexpected delays on the roads, it’s wise never to let your fuel tank get below a quarter full.

Emergency kit - Carrying a winter emergency kit could well be a lifesaver if you get stuck. Items to keep in an emergency kit will vary but might include:

  • Mobile phone and charger
  • First aid kit
  • Road map and sat nav
  • Blankets
  • Snow shovel
  • Ice scraper and de-icer
  • Torch and batteries
  • Emergency food and drink rations
  • Extra warm clothing

Driving techniques – Winter can be the most challenging time for drivers as it may require driving in heavy snow, on untreated icy roads, through flooded areas and also against high winds.

A single journey can feature all types of these hazards so it is necessary to be prepared to adapt your driving style to each.

When driving through ice and snow it is advisable wherever possible to stay on gritted main roads. Don’t brake suddenly and always give lots of room to other road users – and keep your speed down.

High winds are often a feature of winter and require extra care. Gusts can come unexpectedly so keep a tight grip of the steering wheel, slow down and be ready. It is possible to anticipate some gusts of wind, which may occur when passing gaps in hedges, bridges or high-sided vehicles. However, you should also look out for other vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians who may be blown into your path.

Keep an eye on local forecasts, if the weather is looking particularly bad you should consider whether the journey you are planning on making is absolutely essential.