Plummeting temperatures, icy roads and an increased chance of snow means the winter months can be some of the worst for drivers with a disability. The following tips could help to keep you safe on the road over the next few months, because everyone’s car or Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV) needs a bit of extra TLC during winter to minimise the risk of a serious accident or breakdown.
1. Regularly check the oil level, anti-freeze, screen wash and wiper blades, especially if you’re about to go on a long journey. Not sure how to do this? Read this simple car maintenance guide from the RAC.
2. Check tyres to make sure the tread depth and the pressure is correct. If you drive a Motability vehicle and you think that one or more of the tyres might need checking by an expert, remember that tyre repair and replacement cover is included as a part of your Motability lease package (through Kwik Fit centres and Kwik Fit mobile tyre fitters).
3. If it's more than 3 months since your vehicle was serviced, consider taking your car or WAV into your local dealership for a Winter Safety Check (sometimes known as a Vehicle Health Check). A trained service technician will carry out a comprehensive safety inspection and key fluids check on your vehicle. Most dealers offer this service, with many garages carrying it out for less than £20 and while you wait.
4. Before you set off use a service like Google Maps or the AA Route Planner to plan your journey in advance. These can show you the best way to get to where you’re going and avoid potential hazards like road closures and traffic jams. Also, in bad weather try and use main roads as much as possible as they are more likely to have been gritted.
5. Tune in to one of your local radio stations for regular traffic and weather updates.
6. Set off a little earlier than you need to if you’re travelling in poor weather to make sure you get to where you’re going on time.
7. Check you’ve got enough fuel for your journey. If you find filling up your vehicle at the petrol station difficult, we’d suggest you give fuelService a try. The fuelService app lets drivers with a disability ask for help fuelling their vehicle, so you'll know that someone from the petrol station will be on hand to assist you and fill up your vehicle when you pull up at the pump.
8. Keep a small bag in the boot and fill it with things you’d find useful if you're unlucky enough to breakdown or get stuck in bad weather. A torch, bottled water, something to eat, a blanket, warm and waterproof clothing, a hi-vis vest and a first aid kit could all come in handy.
9. Always keep a can or a bottle of de-icer and an ice scraper in your vehicle, just in-case the weather turns bad while you’re away from home. If you struggle to reach your car windscreen and windows an ice scraper with an extendable telescopic arm will make this task simpler.
10. If the temperature has dropped below zero overnight always de-ice your car before you set off and ensure all windows are fully cleared of frost or snow so your visibility isn’t impaired. Never use warm or hot water as this could crack your windscreen. You can also clear the mist from your windscreen quicker by turning on your vehicle’s engine and air conditioning system to reduce the moisture in the vehicle, but be careful as car thieves are known to target vehicles that the owners have left running unattended to warm-up.
11. It’s vital that everyone is extra vigilant on the roads during the winter months. In bad weather remember to leave more space than you normally would between you and the vehicle in front. The RAC recommend leaving as much as 10 times the normal recommended gap in icy conditions.
12. When it’s cold and icy try to avoid braking too hard, and consider dropping gears instead of applying the brakes when you want to slow the vehicle down gradually. Both these tips will reduce the likelihood of the vehicle skidding.
Winter can be a challenging time for electric vehicle (EV) drivers. If you have an EV the driving range will be impacted far more during the cold months than in other seasons, sometimes by as much as 20%. Make sure you research the best charging stations on your route before you set off on a long journey, and remember to charge up the battery before you go. Take advantage of the remote preconditioning feature that most EVs have to warm up the inside of the vehicle and clear the windscreens before you leave the house. Preconditioning will also warm up the battery, which helps it to run more efficiently and improves the cold weather range.
Finally, if you don’t have much driving experience or confidence perhaps the best way to stay safe when the weather turns nasty is to not get behind the wheel at all, especially if the journey isn’t absolutely necessary. If you must travel in difficult conditions, perhaps consider asking a more confident family member or friend to drive you if you have no other option other than travelling by road.