At This Time Of Year You Should Change Your Driving Habits As Well As The Clocks

THE best Sunday morning of the year is almost upon us. The clocks will be going back at 0200 on Sunday 29th October, providing that delicious an extra hour in bed.

The downside is that we will all start commuting in the dark on the Monday. This is the time of year that usually sees a spike in road traffic accidents. If you think about it the reasons are blindingly obvious, but how many of us actually do that? Think about it, that is.

This is the first time for months that many of us will be starting our commute in darkness. For around half a million new drivers who passed their tests in the summer months it will be the first time ever. It takes time to get used to that change. With the sun rising as late as 8am and setting around 4pm over the coming months, our roads can become very different to the light summer journeys.

Being aware of the increased risks is half the battle. An extra few minutes here and there is all it needs to make sure you don’t become another statistic.

1. Lights

For a start make sure your lights are working. It only takes a few seconds to walk around your car and check the bulbs are working. If you are on your own use a wall to check the brake lights, anything that reflects the light will do. If a bulb does blow replace it as soon as possible. With modern engine bays being so cramped it’s not always easy to do yourself but there are plenty of places where you can get it done quickly and cheaply.

There’s no point checking them if you don’t use them. A lot of cars are now fitted with automatic headlights but you should still make sure they are switched on. Daytime running lights help but even if your car is fitted with them it’s still a good idea to turn your lights on as soon as the light starts to fade. Don’t wait until it’s completely dark before admitting you can’t see.

2. Vision

We aren’t suggesting that your windows are so dirty you can’t see through them. The issue is the sun being lower in the sky can make seeing clearly more of a problem. As well as allowing yourself more time to defrost the windows on a cold day, make sure your windows are free of the grease and dirt that can scatter light and dazzle you.

Keep your sunglasses in the car and raise your seat so the sun visor is better placed. Anything that helps you see while piloting a tonne of metal down the road is useful. More importantly, just being aware that you could be dazzled at any moment should instinctively slow you down a little. Leave a slightly larger gap to the vehicle in front, watch out for the sun poking through trees or appearing behind hills and rises, take an extra few seconds at junctions to check you really have seen there is nothing coming. If you are aware you are less likely to get caught out.

3. Conditions

We’ve all heard the joke about the wrong leaves on the line. Very few of us are actually train drivers so this is less of a regular occurrence in our lives. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be aware of the fact that leaves can be slippery, or that they can reflect the lowering sun and obscure road markings. Wet leaves are synonymous with a British Autumn and they get everywhere, including all over the roads.

It’s not that wet leaves are a deadly menace, but they do change the road conditions. As does rain, fog, ice, snow, wind, and every other natural weather condition the British weather likes to conjure up at this time of year. Anything that can affect visibility and stopping distances should automatically slow you down to compensate. Making sure your tyres are in good condition - tread depth and air pressure - is essential at all times, even more so as this is the time of year the weather starts to change. You don’t have to subscribe to the MET office to keep an eye on the weather forecast. If you know what’s coming you can prepare for it.

4. Breakdowns

It’s not that there are more breakdowns when the nights draw in, regardless of how it may feel if you are the one sitting on the hard shoulder of the M25 in a rainstorm. It’s basic maths really. It’s darker for longer therefore more breakdowns will occur while it is dark. Roaming mechanics are used to dealing with breakdowns at night but for most motorists it could be the first time it has ever happened to them.

Ideally you want to avoid breakdowns by making sure your vehicle is properly maintained. Unfortunately there are times when even a strict maintenance regime can’t prevent a breakdown. If it does happen you need to be prepared. If you can get your car off the road and to a well-lit, safe place you should do so. If not, get as far off the road as you can. Throw an old coat or blanket in the boot in case you find yourself huddling at the side of the road. If you have a warning triangle in your breakdown kit you should use it. If you haven’t got one, get one, and grab a high-viz vest while you’re at it. It’s better to have and not need than need and not have, as the saying goes.

Driving at this time of year isn’t really any different to driving any other time. The rules are the same, it’s just a case of being aware of what is happening around you. You may be safely cocooned in your car but there are other road users who don’t have that protection. The main reason for the increase in accidents at this time of year is a lack of awareness and attention.

The peak time for the increase in accidents only lasts a few weeks until we all get used to the change. Look after your car and keep your eyes open and they should be as trouble free as any other time of the year.

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