We may be heading for the warmest New Year’s Eve on record, with temperatures set to briefly reach up to 15 degrees, but the more familiar UK winter conditions of icy roads, snow flurries and frozen vehicle windows look set to return within a matter of days.

Driving in winter is not pleasant. Adverse weather and road conditions can cause drivers to panic and make simple mistakes, that could see them landed with a hefty fine. To help motorists stay safe on the roads and to ensure their insurance remains valid, we have taken 10 common winter driving myths to see if there is any truth to them.

  1. Leaving your car unattended with the engine running to warm up the vehicle or defrost the windows invalidates your insurance if your vehicle is stolen (TRUE)

If your car is stolen in this situation, it is often referred to as ‘frost-jacking’ and lots of us are guilty of doing this. A survey by the Association of British Insurers showed that a huge 47% of UK motorists have left their cars unattended whilst running on frosty mornings. It is understandable why you would do this – your car is right outside your house, so you feel comfortable leaving it running whilst you nip back inside to keep warm or finish getting the children ready for school. However, all it takes is for an opportunist thief to slip into the driver’s seat and drive away.

Whenever you leave your car engine running and unattended, you are inviting criminals to take your car from you, and your insurance provider cannot be expected to pay out. The law states that drivers are expected to always be in control of their vehicle whilst the engine is running, even when they’re de-icing the windows or letting their car warm up. Most insurers have a ‘keys exclusion’ clause written into the small print, which states that if your car is stolen whilst left unattended with the engine running, you won’t be covered.

  1. It is illegal to drive in winter boots or wellies (FALSE)

It may not be illegal to wear winter boots or wellies at the wheel, but it is the responsibility of the driver to ensure their footwear is suitable, and that they have full control of their vehicle at all times.

Rule 97 in the Highway Code states that motorists should ensure ‘clothing and footwear do not prevent you using the controls in the correct manner.’ If your wellies don’t give you full control and you can’t feel the pedals, it’s best to swap them for a safer pair of shoes, as you could risk invalidating your insurance if you are involved in an accident wearing shoes you know are unsafe. In the event that you are stopped by the Police to check your footwear, you should be able to show that you have full control of your car.

  1. You can be fined for leaving the engine running to defrost your windscreen (TRUE)

 The mundane task of de-icing frozen windows is part of every motorist’s morning routine in winter. ‘Engine idling’ – leaving your car running whilst stationary, is an offence under Rule 123 of the Highway Code. If you are found leaving your engine running on a public road to defrost your windscreen, you could be issued with a £20 fine. If you refuse to turn the engine off, the fine is double to £40. However, if you are fortunate enough to have your own driveway, you won’t be committing an offence.

  1. Winter tyres on your vehicle can invalidate your insurance (TRUE AND FALSE)

 Winter tyres have a deeper tread depth compared to standard tyres and are made from a softer compound, that doesn’t harden as much in cold weather. They are designed to disperse water and snow, allowing the rubber to move around, thus improving contact with the road. Some drivers choose to have winter tyres fit as they can be safer when driving in severe weather conditions.

Although safer than standard tyres, some insurance providers may consider winter tyres to be a modification to your vehicle. Modifications need to be declared and can lead to an increase in the cost of your premium.

However, most insurance providers in the UK have signed up to the Association of British Insurers Winter Tyres Motor Insurance Commitment. This recognises the safety benefits of winter tyres and means they can be fitted without having to tell your insurer.

If you are thinking of having winter tyres fit, it is important to check with your insurance provider to see if they have signed up to the winter tyre commitment. 

  1. If you damage your car driving through flood water your insurance could be invalid (TRUE AND FALSE)

Flood water damage generally falls into two categories: avoidable and unavoidable. How your insurance provider classifies each will determine if they are likely to pay out for a claim for flood damage.

Attempting to drive through flooding could be classified as avoidable and therefore not covered, unless you were already cut off by rising water. In a typical car, if the depth of water is more than 4-6 inches (10-15cm), it is best not to attempt to drive through it. If your car is flooded where it is usually parked, insurance providers will typically class this as unavoidable flood damage and should cover the cost of repairs.

Some insurers will cover flood water damage. It is best to check your policy with your insurance provider, especially if you live in an area that is prone to flooding.

  1. Insurers will always pay out if you crash on ice as it is not your fault (FALSE)

As a driver you are responsible for your actions when you are behind the wheel. In cases where no other road users are involved, you could find yourself with an ‘at fault’ claim.

If you are involved in an incident with another driver, the usual circumstances will be taken into consideration. Remember to bear in mind that stopping distances could be up to 10 times longer on ice than in dry conditions.

  1. It’s illegal to drive with ice on your windscreen (TRUE)

If you set off driving and your windscreen is obstructed in any way, the police can issue you with a £60 fine. No matter how tempting it may be to set off with a partially clear windscreen, make sure your windscreen and windows are fully clear before taking to the road.

Rule 229 of the Highway Code states ‘before you set off you MUST be able to see, so clear all snow and ice from all your windows.’

Also, whilst there is no law stating that it is illegal to drive with snow on your roof, if it falls onto your windscreen or into the path of another vehicle, then you could be fined for driving without due care and attention. It is not worth the risk, so always make sure your car roof is clear before you set off.

  1. Fog lights need to be switched on if it’s snowing (FALSE)

According to the Highway Code, you should only use your fog lights when visibility in front of your vehicle reduces to 100 metres or less. Switching them on when visibility is more than 100 metres could put other road users at harm, and even invalidate your insurance if you are involved in an accident.

If your visibility is severely hampered by heavy snow, then switch your fog lights on. However, if snow has settled and you aren’t struggling to see, then the lights will dazzle other road users and could increase the risk of a collision.

  1. Using hot water to clear your windscreen will crack the glass (TRUE)

Flicking on the kettle may seem like a quick way to clear your windscreen but doing so is almost certain to damage the glass. Pouring boiling water on a frozen windscreen will not cause the windscreen to immediately shatter, however, it can cause small cracks to appear. If your windscreen already has a small crack or chip in it and the water seeps into it, the next time it freezes the liquid will expand and cause the glass to crack, which will gradually increase in size.

Refrain from using plastic cards to remove the ice from your windscreen. Not only do you run the risk of snapping your card, but it is also more than likely to scratch the glass on your windscreen. If there is damage anywhere on the windscreen which is 40mm in size or bigger, your car will fail its MOT.

Remember that it is illegal to drive with a crack in your windscreen, and you could face up to three penalty points and a fine if you are stopped by the police. If you have an accident, you could be charged with a more serious driving offence, and your insurance will be invalidated.

  1. There’s a higher risk of being involved in an accident in winter (TRUE)

Information from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) shows that during the winter months, there is an increase in the number of road users either killed or seriously injured. 40% of these accidents take place during the hours of darkness.

The most obvious danger of driving in the dark is decreased visibility. The distance you can see is reduced and hazards can appear out of nowhere. It also takes time for your eyes to adjust to the darkness after driving in a well-lit area. We also have to be aware of hard-to see pedestrians and new drivers lacking in confidence, who may not have driven much in the dark. Driving in darkness is particularly dangerous when combined with poor weather and road conditions.

Tony Buckingham, Managing Director of Buckingham Insurance says, “Winter driving is difficult, even for experienced drivers. Schedule plenty of time for your journey so you are not rushing and putting extra pressure on yourself. Unfortunately, statistics show that more car accidents happen at this time of year. If you do have an accident, we have a 24 hours a day, 365 days a year Claims Service.

If you would like to discuss your car insurance policy or to make sure you have adequate cover, please contact us or telephone one of our friendly staff on 01246 575 625 (Clowne) or 01773 748 627 (Ripley). They will be more than happy to answer any questions you may have.”