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Winter driving and the value of winter tyres

The past two winters have seen near-unprecedented weather conditions sweep across the UK and cause havoc for British businesses.

According to data from the Met Office, December 2010 was the coldest December in the UK since 1910 with the winter before the coldest since 1978.

Severe weather can brings with it disruption to business operations, hampering employees' efforts to get into work and triggering heating and power failures.

For companies with large fleets, disruptive snowfall can be a nightmare, significantly impacting on deliveries and logistics and raising the risk of accidents.

With forecasters predicting yet another difficult winter, it's vital that companies start planning now, to safeguard staff and vehicles and keep supply chains running as effectively as possible.

One way fleet managers can do this is by buying in winter tyres. However, many consumers are reluctant to invest in them, even though they are widely believed to be effective.

According to a recent survey of 3,000 people for example, 95 per cent of Britons say no to winter tyres. The reasons given included cost, a feeling that the weather wouldn't be bad this year and ignorance – close to one in five did not know what winter tyres are.

There are three key ways winter tyres are different to conventional ones. They are:

 Winter tyres are made up of a different kind of material than standard tyres. They have move rubber in them, which makes them perform and grip better than summer tyres in cold temperatures

 Winter tyres have more grooves, too, meaning more snow sticks to the tyres (which marginally helps grip)

They also have a higher number of 'sipes' (little channels or claws) that 'lock' into snow and ice, enhancing grip when helping braking

So do they work?

According to consumer group Which?, yes. Its car researcher, Dave Evans, said in a recent blog post that winter tyres have the edge on summer tyres when it comes to difficult wintry conditions.

"Having recently compared summer and winter tyres myself, there's no doubt that the latter really do help in adverse conditions," he wrote.

"We know from independent tests that they grip better on ice and snow – and actually, tyre makers' data supports the fact that they grip better below 7?C. This would prevent many motorists becoming stranded, or worse, crashing. And in severe wet conditions, the deeper tread grooves are often better at dispersing surface water."

However, it is the case that adverse weather isn't a regular problem for the UK, unlike in some European countries, where some businesses own both a summer and a winter set of tyres.

"In countries where severe winter weather conditions are more or less guaranteed, it is quite normal for drivers to switch to winter tyres for the duration of the cold season," said Peter Rodger, chief executive of the Institute of Advanced Motorists.

"This practice has not been commonly taken up in the UK because harsh winters are fairly unusual, despite experience to the contrary over the last two years."

So while winter tyres should be an important consideration for fleet managers, it's also important to remember simple, effective driving techniques.

These include:

Good route planning – spend some time checking out the day's routes for your fleet and factor in any problems you can foresee. Make good use of the wide variety of travel information out there – like the Highways Agency website and local TV and radio weather reports.

Keep on top of vehicles – before heading out, drivers can perform some simple checks to make sure their car is fit for the road. These include checking tyre pressure (include the spare too), oil levels and that the lights are working correctly.

It's also a good idea to make sure you have enough fuel for your journey (in heavy traffic and stop-start conditions more fuel is consumed) Drivers use more fuel when driving in heavy traffic and stop/start conditions

When on the road adjust your speed limit to match the weather, make use of fog lights if needed and watch out for snowploughs or gritting lorries

The most important thing to remember, though, is that if the conditions are extremely bad, use your judgement – only drive if it is absolutely necessary.