Driving Home for Christmas?
Stay safe on the roads this festive season with our top tips
Christmas is meant to be a joyous time of year with peace on earth and goodwill to all. But driving over the festive period can present a number of challenges, with more police patrols and increased levels of drink-driving, inclement winter weather, congested roads and longer journeys than normal – to name but a few.
Here’s our guide to successfully navigating through the potential pitfalls of driving during the festive season.
Drink driving – don’t do it!
More than half a million drivers are stopped and breathalysed each year by the police, with more breath tests carried out in December than other months.
Although the level of drinking and driving has dropped dramatically over the last three decades, more than 200 people are still killed in drink drive accidents every year. And, despite 30 years of drink drive education and enforcement, over 70,000 people are still caught drink driving annually.
In England and Wales, the alcohol limit for drivers is 80 milligrams (mg) of alcohol per 100 millilitres (ml) of blood, 35ml per 100ml of breath or 107mg per 100ml of urine. This is the highest in Europe.
The alcohol limit for drivers in Scotland is lower than elsewhere in the UK at 50mg of alcohol in every 100ml of blood and 22mg of alcohol per 100ml of breath. In most other European countries, the limit is lower, typically 50mg per 100ml of blood or less.
Penalties for drink driving
Anyone caught over the legal alcohol limit when driving will be banned from driving for at least 12 months, fined up to £5,000 and receive between three to 11 penalty driving points.
They could also be sent to prison for up to six months. All these factors – the length of imprisonment, period of disqualification, size of fine and penalty points depend on the severity of the offence.
An endorsement for a drink-driving offence remains on a driving licence for 11 years, so it is 11 years before a convicted driver will have a “clean” licence again.
And being in charge of a vehicle whilst over the legal limit or unfit through drink could result in three months’ imprisonment plus a fine of up to £2,500 and a driving ban.
If you’re caught drink driving more than once in a 10 year period, you’ll be banned for at least three years.
We have produced a useful guide to the perils of drink and drug driving which you can download here
This time of year also throws up road conditions that you may not face at other times, and they may require rather different driving techniques.
Icy roads throw up a number of problems, so please note it can take ten times longer to stop in icy conditions than on a dry road. Drive slowly, allowing extra room to slow down and stop.
Use the highest gear possible to avoid wheel spin and manoeuvre gently, to avoid harsh braking and acceleration.
If you need to brake on ice or snow without locking your wheels, get into a low gear earlier than normal, allow your speed to fall and use the brake pedal gently. If you start to skid, ease off the accelerator but do not brake suddenly.
At this time of year, fog can be a hazard in any region of the country. Remember, in foggy conditions, drive very slowly using dipped headlights.
Use fog-lights if visibility is seriously reduced, but remember to switch them off when visibility improves. But don’t hang on to the tail-lights of the vehicle in front. This gives you a false sense of security and means you may be driving too close.
In wet weather, stopping distances will be at least double those required for stopping on dry roads. In wet weather you should keep well back from the vehicle in front. This will increase your ability to see and plan ahead.
If steering becomes unresponsive, it probably means the water is preventing the tyres from gripping the road. Ease off the accelerator and slow down gradually. And remember that rain and spray from vehicles ahead may make it difficult to see and be seen.
Driving on our roads during winter requires common sense and a greater awareness of conditions, and you should always be prepared for every eventuality.
We have produced a useful guide to winter driving which you can download here
Don’t drive tired!
Drivers may often face long journeys over the festive period to get to see relatives in more remote parts of the country. But research shows that driver fatigue may be a contributory factor in up to 20% of road accidents, and up to 25% of fatal and serious accidents.
Studies also indicate that 20% of accidents on motorways in the UK are caused by sleepiness, while more than 300 people a year are killed, and many more seriously injured, as a result of drivers falling asleep at the wheel.
What should drivers do?
The best solution for any tired drivers is not to put yourself in a situation of risk in the first place. The first question is to ask whether you actually have to drive. If not, then consider the alternatives including going by rail, air, bus or coach – it’s safer and can reduce CO2.
If you absolutely must drive, then carefully plan the journey.
- Share the driving if possible
- Ensure your vehicle is in a safe condition
- Make sure you are not impaired by alcohol or drugs
- Make sure you will be well rested
- Book an overnight stop if necessary
- Avoid driving in peak sleepiness periods
Plan the route
At the same time, the route should be carefully planned taking into account the following factors:
- Avoid driving when you would normally be asleep
- Plan where to take rest breaks – at least every two hours
- Plan where to stop for the night if necessary
- Check for delays – plan alternative routes
During the journey
There are a number of things you can do to keep alert during the journey itself:
- Take rest breaks as planned
- Listen to traffic news for possible delays
- Concentrate on your driving
However, if you do start to feel tired:
- Find somewhere safe to stop
- Take two strong caffeine drinks
- Nap for about 15 minutes
- If you are still too tired to continue, then find somewhere safe to stop for the night.
We have produced a guide on how to avoid driving tired which you can download here
Vehicle condition check
Carrying out a check on the condition of your vehicle should be second nature, but here’s a useful checklist:
Check your tyres. Make sure they’re inflated to the correct pressure, bearing in mind that you might be carrying more passengers than usual. That means pressures generally need to be a bit higher. You’ll find this information in the tyre-pressure chart in your car’s handbook, inside one of the doorjambs or inside the fuel filler cap.
You should also make sure to check tread depth. You can use a tread depth gauge, but a 20p coin is a simple alternative – the coin’s outer band measures 3mm, which is the minimum tread depth you should drive on. Between 3mm and the 1.6mm legal minimum, braking performance is significantly compromised.
Check that your lights work. All exterior lights should work properly. If not, you should change the faulty bulb, as not only is it unsafe to drive without a full set of working lights, you could be committing an offence.
Check your windscreen wipers work well and don’t smear. If they do, they’ll need replacing. Make sure your windscreen washer fluid is topped up and use a screenwash solution to prevent it freezing.
Check your antifreeze. Testers are available from most car spares shops and will tell you how low the temperature will need to drop before the coolant freezes. If the level is low, you should top it up.
Check your oil before any long journey. If the level is below the maximum line, you’ll need to top it up.
Take a look at this infographic regarding the regular vehicle condition checks you need to make which you can download here
All of these driving guides – and more – can be accessed in our resources library.