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Winter Driving - Law and Practice

View profile for Michael Pace
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As winter approaches there are a number of things for motorists to consider in order to be safe on the road and to not attract any penalty points to your licence.

The first thing is to make sure your car is fit for winter use:

  • Do all the lights work correctly?
  • Do the tyres have enough tread?
  • Are the wiper blades working or do they smear?
  • Do you know the law on use of foglights?
  • Do you know how your automatic lights work?
  • Have you got something to clean your windows of ice?
  • What to do if it snows heavily and your car is covered.
  • Bulky clothing and boots.

Lights; it is a criminal offence which will attract penalty points if your lights do not work properly. This includes all additional lighting. It is also an offence if your headlights are not set correctly and you cause other people to be dazzled. Typically these offences will attract 3 penalty points

Foglights; it is an offence to drive around with your fog lights on when visibility is more than 100 yards.

It is also an offence to dazzle people (Inconsiderate driving – 3 to 9 points). Please consider whether you really need your rear fog light on. If you can see the headlights of the car behind in your mirror, then they can see you. After that, you are dazzling them. You certainly do not need rear fog lights on in queuing traffic. You could also do the car behind a favour by not sitting with your foot on the brake pedal, as your brake lights can also dazzle people.

Tyres; the law requires that your tyres have at least 1.6mm of tread across the central three quarters of the tyre for the whole circumference. All tyres have indicators to show you that you are close to the legal limit.

For each tyre that does not comply, 3 penalty points are attracted. If all four tyres are under depth, then you are looking at 12 points and a disqualification of at least 6 months.

In winter driving conditions it is important to understand that the more tread depth you have then the better they will deal with water and snow. Also, be aware that most people drive around on 'summer' tyres. This is unlikely to have been brought to your attention by the garage when fitting them. Summer tyres perform at around 50% of the cheapest winter tyres in snow and icy conditions. You should consider the type of driving you do and if you can afford it, consider fitting winter tyres. If better tyres are beyond your reach then make allowances by increasing the distance between you and the vehicle in front and remember it takes longer to stop.

Wiper blades; in order to see where you are going you need wipers that work properly. It is an offence if the wipers do not work (ie do not sweep the screen) and also an offence if they do not clean the screen properly. 3 points apply normally, but you could be prosecuted for careless or even dangerous driving when much harsher penalty would apply..

Automatic lights; beware these modern automatic features as they can be dangerous. Automatic headlights do not come on in daylight fog! This could mean you are driving around with no rear lights at all and only daytime driving lights at the front.

Also, beware if your car has recently been in for service as the garage will more likely than not have turned your lights from the auto setting to off. So in setting off in the dark, again you will have no rear lights on.

Screen cleaning; not only do you wipers have to work, but so does the washer fluid pump. Make sure that the washer fluid will work at least down to minus 10 degrees by using the proper cleaning fluid..

Also, you need something to scrape ice off your screen before starting your journey. This is all your screen and both side windows and the external mirrors..

The worst thing you can do through being lazy is to just scrape a letterbox size hole to look through. If caught you might face a charge of Dangerous Driving which comes with a 12 months disqualification and a re-test. You could also through your laziness be injured in an accident.

You also need to consider, that shortly after setting off and having scraped your windows,  they can suddenly mist over. This is because the engine is not yet up to temperature and is blowing cold air. It is worth waiting on very cold mornings for warm air to start coming through the system before setting off.

Snow; you will of course brush any snow off the screen before setting off. These days though some police officers take exception to people driving around with lots of snow on the car roof, arguing that if you brake sharply, this will come forwards and obstruct the screen and your view. You should therefore sweep snow from your bonnet and roof before setting off. Consider keeping a soft bristled brush in the car for this purpose.

Frozen snow on the car roof is also a danger to other road users when it blows off at speed. It can damage other vehicles.

Clothing and footwear; if you are wearing heavy boots and/or bulky clothing, you must consider whether you can properly control your car. it is an offence not to be in control of your car. this could cause you to not be able to steer properly or not brake effectively. At worst it could be careless driving which attracts betwenn 3 and 9 points.

Penalty Points; it can be very easy to attract penalty points for not complying with all the above. Points on your licence means a higher insurance premium. If you get to 12 points, then you are facing a 6 months disqualification.


If you find yourself on the end of a ticket, please email to ask me to check the ticket and give initial advice.

Michael Pace 
01522 781466