Is driving in wellies illegal and do winter tyres affect insurance? The truth behind 8 common winter myths
The facts and fiction around driving in winter, from clearing windscreens to when to use fog lights
December has brought with it a sudden change in weather, with temperatures plummeting and driving conditions becoming treacherous.
With the freezing temperatures comes the usual problems of frozen windscreens (inside and out) and trying to stay in control on slippy roads, as well as a host of often-repeated “facts” abou driving in winter.
Whether it’s winter tyres invalidating insurance or the financial risks of wearing wellies, there’s a lot of misunderstanding about the law that only arises in winter. So to help you spot some of the most common myths, as well as the advice you should listen to, we’ve worked with insurance experts USwitch to break down the truth.
It’s illegal to drive in wellies
There is no specific law stopping you from driving in wellies, or flip-flops or any other particular footwear. However, while it’s not specifically illegal to wear wellies at the wheel, it’s the responsibility of drivers to ensure their footwear is suitable and that they have full control of their vehicle at all times.
Rule 97 of 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’re involved in an accident wearing shoes you know are unsafe.
Winter tyres invalidate your insurance
Many drivers have winter tyres fitted as they can offer significant benefits on cold, wet and slippery roads.
While having them fitted can be categorised as a modification, which should be declared to an insurer, most UK insurance providers are signed up to the Association of British Insurers Winter Tyres Motor Insurance Commitment. This means your insurance is not affected and, in most cases, you don’t have to notify your insurer because they deem the tyres safer at this time of year. However, there are still a small number of insurers that aren’t signed up to the ABI’s commitment or require you to tell them if you fit winter tyres, so it’s important to check your policy.
Using hot water to deice your windscreen will crack the glass
Whilst flicking on the kettle may seem like a quick fix to removing ice from your windscreen, it can most definitely damage the glass. The sudden change in temperature can cause the glass to expand and contract rapidly, in rare cases causing it to shatter. But more likely is that the liquid will get into any scratch or chip in the windscreen and when this refreezes it will expand, causing the glass to crack further. If the crack is particularly large or obscuring your view, you could be breaking the law and face a fine and penalty points if you’re stopped by police.
Driving with snow on your number plate is illegal
Whilst the windscreen and mirrors are the main priority when it comes to removing snow and ice, leaving your number plate concealed could land you in a spot of bother. If you head out without clearing it, you are breaking the law and could face a fine of up to £1,000 for driving with an obscured plate. The rules apply to both the front and rear plates, so remember to check the back of your vehicle, too. Alongside registration plates, it’s also illegal to drive with snow on your lights, mirrors, roof, and all of your windows.
Rule 229 of the Highway Code states that you “MUST be able to see, so clear all snow and ice from all your windows”. And that’s not just the part of the window in front of you - police have the right to stop and fine you £60 if any of the screen is obstructed.
You can be fined if you leave your engine running to defrost the windscreen
While many believe this is a myth, if you’re caught leaving your engine running on a public road to defrost your windscreen, you could be slapped with a fine. The act breaks rule 123 of the Highway Code and is an offence under regulations 98 and 107 of the Road Vehicles (Constructions and Use) Regulations 1986. Motorists who are caught could be charged with a fine of £20, whilst those who refuse to turn the engine off will see it doubled to £40.
You must switch on your fog lights when it’s snowing
Knowing which lights to use in treacherous conditions often leaves motorists confused. Many drivers will put their fog lights on at the slightest dip in visibility, prompting the rest of us to question the correct procedure.
According to the Highway Code, you should only use your fog lights on your car when visibility in front of your car reduces to below 100 metres or less. If your visibility is severely harmed by heavy snow, then by all means, try your fog lights to see if they help - they should reflect less off falling snow than high beams. But if the snow has settled and you aren’t struggling to see, then the lights will dazzle other drivers and could increase the risk of a collision.
If you leave your car to warm up and it’s stolen your insurance won’t pay out
Most insurers have a “keys exclusion” clause written into the small print, which states that if your car is stolen while left unattended with the engine running, you won’t be covered. When your car is stolen in this situation, it’s often referred to as “frost-jacking”. Whenever you leave your car engine on, unattended, you are inviting criminals to take your car from you, and your insurer cannot be expected to pay out.
Driving through a flood invalidates your car insurance
It’s always important to check the small print, as many insurers won’t cover you if you damage your car if you drive through flood water when on the roads.
Flood water damage generally falls into two categories: avoidable and unavoidable. Attempting to drive through flooding could be classified as avoidable and therefore not covered unless you were already cut off by rising water. If your car is flooded where you usually park, they will usually class this as unavoidable flood damage and should cover the cost of repairs.
Uswitch car insurance expert, Florence Codjoe, comments: “Drivers often feel less confident during the winter, as there’s a lot of uncertainty when it comes to the law. When faced with harsh weather conditions, we urge drivers to prioritise their safety before heading out on the roads, as not only could you increase the risk of a road accident, you could also invalidate your insurance and face a fine or penalty points on your license.”