Study highlights ‘dangerously poor knowledge’ about safe winter driving

12.00 | 11 January 2016 | | 5 comments

A new study into driving in bad weather conditions has highlighted ‘dangerously poor knowledge’ when it comes to winter stopping distances.

In the survey, carried out on behalf of Brake and Direct Line, 71% of the 1,000 drivers questioned did not know how much longer it takes for a vehicle to stop in icy conditions.

Published as forecasters predict a drop in temperatures later this week, just 23% of those surveyed knew that the actual stopping distance in icy weather is up to 10 times longer than in normal conditions.

11% of respondents said the stopping distance is twice as long in icy weather, a third thought it is four times as long and 27% opted for five times as long.

The survey also highlighted that 66% of drivers believe others do not leave enough space to stop safely while more than half of those questioned (54%) said other drivers travel too fast in poor weather conditions.

The results led Brake to suggest that “almost three quarters of drivers take life threatening risks on icy roads”.

Warnings and advice

With the first real cold snap of the winter on the horizon, a number of road safety organisations have issued advice to drivers on how to travel safely in difficult conditions.

Tips issued by GEM Motoring Assist include carrying essential items including a shovel, warm clothes and fully charged mobile phone, reducing speed and leaving more space between the vehicle in front.

GEM has published an ebook and video  on staying safe in winter driving conditions, both of which are available free of charge.

Advice from Road Safety Wales focuses on the dangers of driving in heavy rain. Inspector Gary Jones of Dyfed Powys Police stresses the importance of letting others know your intended route and taking a mobile phone in case of breakdown.

He also advises drivers to use dipped highlights, avoid using rear fog lights, and slow down when driving through standing water.

Interactive Driving Systems has published an eight-point plan in order to help motorists stay safe.

The plan covers journey management and checking your vehicle and the conditions, and advises drivers to use the highest possible gear in order to help maintain control, and to give more space to vulnerable road users such as cyclists and motorcyclists.

Photo: Highways Agency (now Highways England) via Flickr



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Order by Latest first | Oldest first | Highest rated | Lowest rated

    I agree completely with your comments Matt, and when I bought the last set of tyres for my own car I bought ones with A-rated wet grip. I welcome the fact that such information is now easily available.

    The study to which I referred was made many, many years ago, but as I remember it the implication was that brakes were not applied because the incidents mostly happened within the drivers’ thinking distances and that in all likelihood they would have braked, except they hit the problem before the foot connected with the brake pedal.

    Of course, the safety measures you cite will improve matters (in some cases), but I’d rather travel in a car driven by a driver who keeps safe distances between his car and other traffic, than I would be driven by someone who is climbing all over the car in front while relying on his collision avoidance technology to stop a crash. Inevitably there will be many drivers who will use such innovations to increase performance as opposed to improve safety. The laws of physics cannot be suspended, and if the innovations are misused it just means that the crash happens at a higher speed.

    I do not wish to knock the technology, and I choose to have as much as I can afford on my own cars and motorcycles, but safety is ultimately down to the driver.

    David, Suffolk
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    I’d be interested in the content of the study, David, as it would suggest crashes involving falling asleep at the wheel or following too closely so that the collision occurs within the distance covered during the driver’s reaction time.

    Derivatives of AEB with forward alert (info available on EuroNCAP website) on some makes and models and the introduction of lane departure warning are more appropriate technologies in either case.

    In any case, encouraging people to ensure they have the best ‘wet grip’ (i.e. water dispersal) performance tyres they can afford is important – as well as ensuring those A or B rated tyres also have sufficient tread to do their job properly!

    Matt Staton, Cambridgeshire
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    Paul, what ultimately stops vehicles is the road surface; the world’s best disc brakes and ABS, coupled with fantastic modern tyres, ESP, EDB, etc., will provide little in the way of retardation when trying to lose speed on a worn-out, wet road after a diesel spill. In many cases modern road surfaces are just the same as they were decades ago.

    Some years ago I read a study concerning fatal crashes on Germany’s autobahn system; it found that in 30% of fatal collisions the brakes were never applied. In such cases I wonder just how much use all the modern developments you cite would be.

    David, Suffolk
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    I’ll take this opportunity to remind readers and those who regularly engage with motorists, how vital it is to get used to the feel of driving on ice and snow as soon as possible every winter, particularly the young or inexperienced who’ve never encountered it before.

    The first time a driver experiences the wheels locking (on ice) and the car carrying on at the same speed can induce fear and panic and a collision is almost inevitable. Getting used to the ABS kicking in and how it can help you stop is also important. Practising it in advance (on a car park or quiet road obviously) is better than trying to frantically deal with it for real when it takes you by surprise.

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
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    Timely as we are expecting some snow this week, although I don’t know what proportion of drivers this publicity will reach. I’m not really a fan of surveys. Not surprising that drivers tend to think other drivers are worse! The truth is that no one really knows the distance it will take to stop in the various types of treacherous conditions – modern cars should be much better given ABS, traction control, ESP, 4 wheel drive etc. Indeed, the 1960s dry stopping distances in the Highway Code, achieved with drum brakes and cross ply tyres, have been halved by modern cars. Choosing the best tyres is big factor – the difference in stopping distances for the best and worst tyres (on identical vehicles) is quite shocking. We can’t easily measure distance whilst driving – so best to use a fixed point and count the seconds – the ‘2 second rule’ for driving in dry conditions obviously needs to be much longer in poor conditions. Tyres are now rated for wet grip, including all weather or winter tyres, so it makes sense to choose a tyre with an A or B rating if you can.

    Paul Biggs, Tamworth
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