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Driving safely and economically at Christmas

As Christmas draws ever closer, many of us will be loading up our cars - or perhaps hiring one - to make journeys across the country. As such, the roads will be busy and what's more, wintry weather could make driving conditions a little tricky.

Given the alternative is probably taking the train (at Christmas? Are you kidding?), here are a few tips on how to drive both safely and economically over the festive period:

Give your car the once over

It's important to make a few checks prior to leaving. The basics, at the very least, should be attended to: pump up your tyres, check your oil and make sure you've got plenty of screen wash to get rid of those horrid, white salt marks that are caused by grit on the roads. It's also a good idea to check that your wiper blades work efficiently and your heater does what it's supposed to do. If you are going on a particularly long journey, you might even want to consider getting a professional to have a quick look - anything to make the car safe and your trip comfortable. 

Familiarise yourself with your hire car

If you've decide to hire a car for your journey - and many people do - then spend some time familiarising yourself with it. Not all vehicles are the same. You might find that certain features a configured differently, so it's worth investing a little time to drive about before the family piles in. It shouldn't take too long, but could instil you with more confidence about the drive. One thing to note, check you can open the fuel cap as they don't all operate a key lock system and you don't want to get stuck en route, unable to fill the tank.

Make your fuel stretch further

To make your fuel last a little longer and your expenses a little lower, there are several things you can do. Most drivers will know that restricting their top speed, driving in the right gear and not revving the engine can help, but have you thought about removing any extra weight? No, that doesn't mean leaving granny at home - it means removing a disused roof rack or tow-bar, carrying only essential luggage and clearing out any junk. A lighter car is a more efficient car.

According to moneysavingexpert.com, turning off air conditioning and opening the window can also save a considerable amount of fuel. The site claims that driving with the windows down at low speeds can improve efficiency by eight per cent.

Another idea is to compare fuel prices in your area before setting off; you should be able to find a facility online for this. Or save up some supermarket vouchers to get a few pence off a litre.

Check road works and weather forecasts

The key to a successful journey is preparation. Given our unpredictable winters, it's a good idea to check the weather forecast when planning the trip. That way you can actively avoid torrential rain or set out once icy roads have thawed. It also allows you to amend your route to circumvent any issues, such as flash flooding.

While checking the forecasts, it's pertinent to also find out about any road works in the area. The Highways Agency strives to resolve or temporarily remove road works in the run-up to Christmas, but some will need to remain for safety reasons. If, for example, an imposed 40 miles per hour speed limit along the M25 will aggravate you or the children, then you can seek an alternate road.  

Get a good night's sleep

Driving long distances, especially in low-light or in the rain, requires a lot of concentration. You need to be alert to spot hazards, anticipate other drivers' actions and read situations - particularly when faced with a constant glare from oncoming head lights. Make sure you are well rested before taking the wheel, getting a good night's sleep beforehand.

If you start to feel sleepy while on the road, pull over at an opportune juncture, get some fresh air and have a coffee. If you really can't keep your eyes open, then it's safer all round if you find somewhere to stay overnight and start afresh in the morning. Long journeys should always be broken up and if you have the chance, split the driving between a couple of you.  

Don't risk a seasonal tipple

At this time of year, it seems everyone is proffering alcoholic drinks from dawn till dusk. It can be very hard to say no and very easy to forget that you've had anything at all - hence many people might inadvertently drink drive. The most effective way to prevent this - and the all-too-well-known potential consequences - is to say no until you've settled back at home for the evening.

Remember that you can still be over the limit the next morning if you've had a 'big' night, so either delay your departure time or try to limit your consumption on the day. There are lots of police patrols in force carrying out random checks, so don't risk it.

Bearing the above in mind should help you experience a pleasant, safe and slightly less expensive journey this Christmas. All that's left is to stop everyone squabbling over the playlist!

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