A Guide to Winter Road Hazards


The Law Of...staying safe in poor weather

Winter weather brings a myriad of hazards to UK roads and so far this season we've already experienced a cold snap and have suffered icy conditions, with forecasts predicting heavy snowfall for the rest of the month. For road users, this means added threats from poor road conditions and wet and icy surfaces.

Ice Scraper

Susan Vanden, Partner and Joint Head of Road Traffic Accidents at Simpson Millar's Manchester office, looks at some of the main hazards on UK roads in winter and how they could result in serious injuries.


A recent Freedom of Information request by the RAC Foundation found that 31,483 claims had been made due to damage to cars from potholes in a single financial year – this equates to a car being damaged by a pothole every 17 minutes. Winter weather conditions cause more potholes to appear, and water on the roads means they're often a hidden hazard.

Potholes are more than just a nuisance that threatens to damage your vehicle; they can actually be attributed to serious injuries and deaths. Whilst a previous Autumn Statement saw the former Chancellor George Osborne pledge extra funds for a permanent pothole fund, the government's estimated backlog for repairing roads stands closer to £8.6 billion. Some figures claim it will take 14 years to clear the backlog of potholes.

Cyclists are at particular risk in winter, as even a small hole in the road can be enough to knock a cyclist from their bike. Martin Uzzell was killed in 2011 whilst on a charity bike ride after hitting a pothole and being thrown in front of a car.

If you've noticed potholes or road damage in your area, you can report this through the Street Repairs website or app, which is an easier way for you to contact your council to make sure that it gets fixed. You can also do this via a website by CTC: The National Cycling Charity.

Rain and Flooding

With storms Angus, Barbara, and Conor already battering the UK this season it's crucial that road users know more about navigating the roads during severe rains and floods.

Wet roads reduce braking speeds, meaning drivers risk accidents by failing to slow down and increase distances from the vehicle in front. When there is surface water or floods, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents suggest:

  • Avoid the deepest water or find an alternative route.
  • Drive slowly, in first gear, but keeping the engine speed high.
  • Informally give way to approaching vehicles and be aware of the bow wave.

The Environment Agency and the AA also advise people not to drive through flood water deeper than 10cm or that is moving. Despite this, their survey found that 54% of people in the UK would still put themselves in danger by trying to get their vehicle through moving flood water.

Ice and Snow

Department for Transport figures from 2014 showed that 29 people were killed and 2,525 injured when there was ice or snow on the roads. Failing to properly prepare a vehicle or to adopt caution in icy conditions can put you and other road users at risk of road traffic accident.

The RAC suggests making 5 checks to your vehicle before you set out in snow or ice:

  • Car battery – If your car hasn't been used for some time (e.g. over the Christmas period) your battery might need charging.
  • Coolant – check the level and ensure there is enough anti-freeze.
  • Tyres – look for damage and consider winter tyres if you live in an "at risk" area.
  • Screenwash – it needs to be the type that protects screens during colder temperatures.
  • Wiper blades – blades can become frozen to the window, so make sure that you free them before you set off.

When Winter Road Accidents Happen

Whilst taking precautions and driving safely can help keep you safe, unfortunately winter road accidents can – and do – still happen. Road accidents, especially those taking place in bad weather conditions, can be deadly, or could leave you suffering a serious injury.

Our solicitors at Simpson Millar are experts in helping those injured in road accidents receive the compensation they're entitled to, whether the accident was the fault of another driver, or a local authority for failing to keep the roads safe.

If you're involved in a road accident and you weren't at fault, our Road Traffic Accident specialists will help you find out whether you could make a claim for compensation to help you get back on your feet.

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