We’ve all seen those annoying drivers on a cold winter’s morning – scraping just enough ice from their screen to give them a ‘porthole’ for vision, but what you may not know is that anyone caught driving like that could face a £60 fine and three penalty points.

In fact, as winter rolls around again, it’s worth knowing that there are a few situations that could see you in hot water if you’re not aware of them – the act of ‘portholing’ is just one of them.

Partial vision

With police forces actively clamping down on drivers with poor vision, it was only a matter of time before the net widened to try and catch drivers that are too lazy to clear their windscreen properly before setting off.

Whilst a £60 fine and three penalty points may seem harsh for failing to clear the screen, the reality is that there’s no real difference between that and driving with poor eyesight, which carries a much stiffer penalty, it could possibly be argued that failing to clear a screen should carry a harsher penalty still.

While ‘portholing’ is a very defined term, what isn’t clear is just what that constitutes – how much of the screen should be clear? Common sense tells us that any significant obstruction to our view is dangerous, and that to take an extra few minutes to finish clearing the screen and windows is the sensible choice, but does the screen need clearing completely, or just the majority?
The Highway Code is very clear:

  • You must be able to see, so clear all snow and ice from all your windows
  • You must ensure that lights are clean and number plates are clearly visible and legible
  • Make sure that the mirrors are clear and the windows are demisted thoroughly
  • Remove all snow that might fall into the path of other road users

Engine idling

While it’s tempting to start your car and let the heat do the work for you, that in itself can be an offence if the vehicle is on a public road (as opposed to your driveway), which could result in a £20 fine.

Section 42 of the Road Traffic Act of 1988 and rule 123 of the Highway Code states that “you must not leave a vehicle engine running unnecessarily while that vehicle is stationary on a public road”. However, defining necessary or unnecessary could potentially be a defence; it was necessary to demist or de-ice the windscreen. It would take a particularly zealous police officer to book you for the offence.

Perhaps of more importance is the fact that any insurance company would likely refuse a claim if your car was stolen under the same circumstance; leaving your car to de-ice with the engine running unattended would likely be seen as a failure in duty of care – that you’ll take reasonable precaution to keep your vehicle safe.

Driving in winter

Driving in winter presents a host of new challenges that we in the UK aren’t specifically taught how to deal with, and no amount of ‘how-to’ articles will prepare you for the reality of driving in snow and ice. Best advice (when the weather is particularly inclement) is to only drive when completely necessary.

Should you find yourself in the position of having to make a journey, experts say that you should have a Winter Survival Kit prepared. This may seem extreme, especially if you’re confident of your abilities, but many times, drivers have found themselves stuck due to other motorists.
Your winter kit should include:

  • Any personal medications
  • Fully charged mobile phone with in-car charger
  • First aid kit
  • Road atlas (in case of detours and road closures)
  • Blanket
  • Shovel
  • Ice scraper and de-icer
  • Torch with spare batteries
  • Snacks (in extremis!)
  • Extra screenwash

Shop bought de-icing solution is readily available through supermarkets, garages and convenience stores, but should you wish to make yourself a greener remedy, or in case you run out of pre-packaged, you can make a simple de-icing solution using three parts white vinegar to one part water.

Preparing your car

Just as you should carry a winter survival kit, you should ensure that your car is fully-prepared for winter: check that you have the right amount of anti-freeze, that your tyres are in good condition, windscreen wipers are smear-free and that your screenwash is topped off. This won’t stop you getting into trouble, but it will help to keep you out of it.

Do you have any tips for winter driving? Should drivers that ‘porthole’ face a stiffer fine? What’s in your winter survival kit? Let us know in the comments.

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