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7 essential safety tips for driving on country lanes in winter

Country Living (UK) logo Country Living (UK) 17/01/2019 Emma-Louise Pritchard
a narrow river in a forest: Follow these driving safety tips for country roads and lanes with ice and snow to keep yourself, your friends and your family as safe as possible this winter. © Nigel Hicks - Getty Images Follow these driving safety tips for country roads and lanes with ice and snow to keep yourself, your friends and your family as safe as possible this winter.

With winter come the navigation of potentially icy, dangerous and congested country roads. We've all been there and we've all worried about friends and relatives heading out in the car when the roads are treacherous.

In a scary statistic from the government road safety campaign, THINK!, 59% of all car-related fatalities occur on country roads, while a quarter of drivers have reported having a near miss on them. This just goes to prove how careful, prepared and cautious we must be.

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First and foremost, when driving on country lanes, it is crucial that we drive slowly and cautiously and take extra care on bends. It is also important to use designated passing areas where possible and be extra vigilant for wild animals - including deer, pheasants and badgers - as well as dog-walkers and horse-riders.

We spoke to automotive specialists Lookers and have put together seven essential tips for driving safely on country roads over the festive period...

a body of water with a mountain in the background: car countryside road © R A Kearton - Getty Images car countryside road

1. Before winter arrives...

Before the weather gets too perilous, it's best to put your car in for a health-check, which can often catch issues that you haven't noticed or that might become a serious issue while on the road.

Blizzard on the road of poor visibility, cars with lights on crossroad. Blizzard on the road of poor visibility, cars with lights on crossroad. 2. Perform essential checks before setting out

The poor driving conditions in December and January make performing regular essential checks on your vehicle a must. You should always check...

  • Your tyres - You need to make sure your tread depth is above the minimum of 1.6mm - not only is this the law, but it will also ensure you have enough grip to deal with any icy conditions. Tyresafe's fool proof 20p test is the quickest and easiest way to check your tyres.
  • Your lights and indicators - As the days are short and the nights are long in winter, it's vital that you make sure that all of your vehicle's lights and indicators are working before you make a dark morning or evening trip. You should also take the time to check that your battery is charging fully so that your lights will be properly powered during these journeys.
  • Anti-freeze levels - You should take care to check that your anti-freeze levels are adequate so that you can de-ice when needed, as well as ensuring that your brakes are performing to a high standard without any squeaking or grinding noises.

Car tires on winter road covered with snow Car tires on winter road covered with snow 3. Get any repairs carried out straight away

If you find that anything is wrong, you should make the effort to get it repaired straight away. Watch out for the items we mentioned above, as well as anything that impairs your visibility or affects the performance of your vehicle. Although it may be a bit of a pain to take your car to the garage, it is better to exercise a safety first attitude, especially during the winter months when the roads are more dangerous.

Watch: What is autonomous emergency braking? [PA Motoring]


4. Be aware of ice and react safely

One of the biggest risks to any motorist driving in the winter is an icy road, particularly when it is difficult to spot. Aptly named "black ice" forms when it is cold enough for rain, snow, or sleet to freeze on contact with the road surface, giving it a transparent appearance that blends in with the tarmac. This makes it challenging to anticipate.

It is most likely to form during the coldest times of the day - late evening and early morning - so extra care should be taken at these times. Fitting your car with snow tyres or grip chains can also improve handling when driving over patches of ice, but most important of all is how you react should your vehicle begin to skid.

What to do if your car skids...

In their guide to driving on ice, the RAC advise that if you encounter a skid, you should gently steer into it. So, the direction in which you begin to move should be the direction you turn your wheel. They also recommend that you should not remove your hands from the wheel or apply the brakes sharply.

a path with trees on the side of a dirt road: ice snow roads countryside © VisitBritain/Britain on View - Getty Images ice snow roads countryside

5. Head out well equipped

Should something go wrong when you're driving out in the country, you need to make sure that you have the right kit in your vehicle to deal with many of the common problems that you may encounter. Before you set off on a long journey through a rural area, it's best practice to take essential equipment with you, checking that you have everything before heading out.

Motoring accessory specialists Halfords have a must-have checklist for winter driving, which includes:

  • Spare de-icer
  • Ice scrapers
  • Fully-charged mobile phone
  • Snow socks or chains.
  • Warm clothing

Read the full list here.

Car tires on winter road covered with snow. Vehicle on snowy way in the morning at snowfall Car tires on winter road covered with snow. Vehicle on snowy way in the morning at snowfall

6. Take the drink calculator

Christmas is a time of year when having a drink or two to celebrate is commonplace, and unfortunately, this can often mean that people are tempted to have 'just one or two' and then drive home afterwards. This is especially true for rural areas, where locations are more remote and can be further apart.

Being responsible, planning your night ahead, and sticking to your limit is the best way to keep yourself and others safe. This helpful calculator on anti-drink-drive campaign The Morning After's website can give you an idea of what your limit should be - though it is not an exact calculation and is not a substitute for the number one course of action, which is to leave the car at home.

If anyone else is attending a party and seems as if they are likely to drink and drive, you should advise them not to and call them a taxi if possible. Additionally, if you encounter a car behaving erratically on the road, you should give them a wide berth and inform the authorities.

a long road with grass on the side of a river: fog road countryside © Spaces Images - Getty Images fog road countryside

7. Check the weather forecast

Being aware of the weather forecast before you set off can help you to prepare for what the British climate has to throw at you. If you see that the weather is due to be treacherous, you should think twice about making the journey and, if possible, delay until conditions improve.

A weather app, such as the Met Office's, can give you up to date information for your location, and will help you to stay one step ahead of the snow, rain, and wind.

Keep these essential tips in mind if you plan on driving in any poor weather conditions in the countryside. They will keep you and your family safe and sound when driving this festive period.

Gallery: The top colour choice of Britain’s best-selling cars right now [Motoring Research]


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