Christmas is always a hectic time of year, often seeing us embark on lengthy trips to visit family and friends. Making sure all the presents and luggage are packed will be at the front of your mind, but it’s also important to consider that bad weather and the hustle and bustle of the festive period can make driving more hazardous.
Read on for our top Christmas driving tips:
If you plan on going to a party, meal or even to visit friends or family where you plan on drinking, don’t take the car. It’s important to remember that even staying over and not setting off until the next morning is no guarantee you’ll be within the legal limit.
Trying to work out if your body has had enough time to process the alcohol in your system and reduce your blood alcohol level is not scientific enough to be reliable. Everyone is different in this regard, and your body’s response to alcohol will even vary depending on factors like how tired you are and what you’ve eaten.
For the same reason, it’s possible that your judgement and reactions could be compromised from a relatively small amount of alcohol even if you’re under the legal limit. It simply isn’t safe to drink and drive.
Read Drink Driving: the facts for more information
If you’ve got a busy social schedule over the festive season and/or kids, the chances are Christmas will be a time of year filled with late nights and early mornings as you attempt to fit everything in. If you’ve got some long car journeys to do too, there’s a risk that you could find yourself driving while tired.
Figures released by the Government show that 20% of accidents on major roads are caused by people driving while tired. The same study suggests that accidents relating to tiredness are more likely to result in serious injuries and fatalities.
If you’re tired, the best advice is not to set off on a long journey. Try to make sure you get a decent night’s sleep before if you’ve got a lot of driving to do, and once you’re on the road, take a 15-minute break every two hours.
If you feel sleepy, pull over in a safe place. Have a cup or two of coffee and let the effects kick in before setting off again. But remember, the only real cure for tiredness is to have a proper sleep rather than a short nap or caffeine.
The preparations you should do before your Christmas road trips aren’t really any different to those recommended at any other time of the year. That means…
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 your tyres’ 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 by pulling out the dipstick, wiping it and replacing it. Pull it out again to get an accurate reading. If the level is below the maximum line, you’ll need to top it up.
Read our car maintenance checklist for more information on these jobs.
Remember that anyone under 12 years old or less than 135cm tall must travel in a suitable car seat. There are different seat sizes available, and not all car seats will fit in all cars.
Although there are circumstances where you can carry a child without a car seat, in most circumstances doing so could lead to a fine of between £30 and £500.
Should the worst happen and you break down, don’t worry – the major breakdown services operate over the whole Christmas period. If you’ve not done so already, you should consider taking out breakdown cover. The top five companies in the UK, according to our Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, are below: