Prepare for the winter with our list of winter driving tips. Every year, over 600,000 drivers pass their driving test, meaning that every year is someone’s first time encountering ice and snow on the road.
According to recent studies, despite the fact that adverse weather keeps people off the road, accident rates increase by 20%. As a result, there are more the 300,000 accidents caused by winter conditions every year in the UK.
Here are some tips to help you drive safely this winter.
Winter Driving in the UK
Drivers are 20% more likely to suffer an accident in winter.
Slippery roads accounted for 55% of road traffic accidents in which the environment was a contributory factor.
22% of all UK road accidents are caused by bad weather.
1.56 million drivers have suffered at least one accident in the last five years due to winter road conditions.
There are, on average, 312,382 accidents caused by winter conditions every year.
Stopping distances double in the wet, and are 10 times greater on icy roads.
Winter driving tips
Before you start
1. Check the weather
The weather in the UK can change very quickly in winter. This, combined with shorter days can make even a familiar journey dangerous. Before heading out in the car, be sure to check the weather so you know you’re prepared.
2. Leave enough time to de-ice your car before work
There are several ways to de-ice your car, but all of them take time. If you anticipate being in a hurry in winter and are experiencing extreme cold or snowy conditions, set aside some time to thoroughly de-ice your car.
Driving with snow or ice may potentially be a criminal offence if driving under reduced visibility, so make sure you leave enough time before work to properly de-ice every window in your car.
3. Get into the habit of checking your car
Take the time to check your oil levels, coolant levels etc. and make it a regular occurrence. Not only will this help keep your car in good condition, but it also gives you the opportunity to address issues before you have to do any intense winter driving.
When de-icing your car, check your wiper blades and windscreen for any damage that might have been hidden under the ice, snow and dirt.
Things to check in winter:
- Your car’s windscreen and washer blades are clean and functioning properly
- Your lights are clean and working correctly
- Your battery is working and fully charged
- The condition, pressure and tread depth of all your tyres is correct
- Your brakes are responsive and that your brake fluid is properly filled
Checking your car regularly for wear and tear will help protect you from dangerous winter roads and help your car pass its next MOT!
4. Check your fog lights before every journey
Fog can be very localised and tricky to predict. As such, it doesn’t always appear on the weather forecast. Cover yourself by making sure your fog lights work before setting off.
When visibility is reduced to 100 meters, it’s time to turn on your headlights. When visibility is seriously reduced, switch on your fog lights. Just remember to turn them off as soon as it improves.
5. Keep your battery healthy
Dead batteries are one of the most common causes of a breakdown callout in winter. Make sure your car battery is in good health and your alternator is charging your car battery. Keep a set of jump leads in the car and make sure you know how to use them!
6. Keep your tyres in good condition
When you’re driving in winter, your tyres are put to the test. Ice, snow, grit and pot holes all put added pressure on your tyres so it’s important that they’re up to the challenge.
Check the condition of your tyres (including the spare) for the correct pressure, as well as for their tread depth – which should, by law, be at least 1.6mm for cars. Don’t wait to replace them until they get that worn, however, and replace pairs of tyres at the same time.
7. Pack sunglasses
Low sun levels in winter can be dangerous. Because the sun doesn’t rise as high in winter, it tends to shine directly through your windscreen, seriously affecting your visibility. Keep a pair of sunglasses to hand to stop yourself being dazzled by glare.
8. Keep a winter kit in the car at all times
Make sure you’re prepared for the worst by keeping warm clothes, a blanket, food and water in the car. A long wait in the cold for a breakdown pick-up will be all the more comfortable and safer if you have a winter kit with you.
Typical winter car kits include:
- Hazard warning triangle
- A fully charged phone
- A fully charged torch
- A fully stocked medical kit
- Emergency rations of high energy food and water
- A paper map (in case your phone dies)
On the road
1. Only go out when you have to
When the weather is really bad, you’d rather not be out in it anyway. So only go out if you really have to. Not only will this reduce the odds of having a breakdown to zero, you won’t be a potential hazard to other drivers who do need to be on the road.
2. Slow down
When the road is icy, it will take your car longer to find the grip it needs to brake. When it’s dark on the roads in winter, spotting hazards becomes much more difficult, so slow down.
Take corners very slowly, and reduce speed further if your view of the road ahead is obscured. Always stay well within the speed limit and look out for temporary speed limit signs.
3. Keep calm if you’re caught in a storm
If you find yourself on the road when a storm blows in, stick to main roads if possible where you are less likely to encounter fallen branches and flooding.
Grip your steering wheel tightly to keep control of your vehicle through gusts of wind, and keep an eye out for gaps between trees or buildings, where you are more likely to encounter side winds.
4. Avoid flooded roads
If you’re unsure how deep an area of flooding is, don’t enter it. If you do have to drive through a flooded stretch of road, stick to the highest section of the road and drive slowly without stopping.
Once clear of the water, check your brakes and dry them out as much as possible – a light touch of the brakes while moving should be enough.
5. Maintain a safe gap between other vehicles
Stopping distances are double when wet. In icy conditions, they can be 10 times greater! This is why it’s important to keep enough space between you and the car in front or behind.
Driving a car in the snow
How to get a car out of snow
1. Stay calm. You won’t be trapped forever.
2. Dig out your car. Be sure to get all the snow away from your tyres and exhaust pipe.
3. Prepare the area around the tyres using something gritty such as:
- car mats/welcome mats
4. Put your car in the lowest gear
5. Straighten your wheels
6. Rock the car back and forth gently and ride the brakes
Is it illegal to drive with snow on your car?
No, it is not illegal to drive with snow on your car. As long as you can see out of your car, according to section 41D of the Road Traffic Act (1988), you are legally allowed to drive with snow on your car.
A person who contravenes or fails to comply with a construction and use requirement—
(a) as to not driving a motor vehicle in a position which does not give proper control or a full view of the road and traffic ahead, or not causing or permitting the driving of a motor vehicle by another person in such a position.
– Section 41D, Road Traffic Act (1988)
Failure to comply with this requirement could result in a fine and potentially a crash. When it comes to snow on the roof, if you cause an accident like this…
So it just pays to clear your whole car before you start driving.
Tips for Driving in Snow
In an ideal situation, you would never have to drive in the snow. If you absolutely have to make a journey on winter roads in the snow, it’s important you understand how to drive in the snow:
- Use the highest gear possible to avoid wheel spin
- Take corners very slowly and steer gently and steadily to avoid skidding
- When skidding, never brake hard. Ease off the accelerator and steer slightly into the direction of the skid
- If stuck in snow, don’t spin the wheels. This will dig the vehicle further in
- If you are stuck in snow, stay in the vehicle unless help is visible within 100 yards
- Use your dipped headlights at any time you feel you need to increase your visibility
Driving uphill in snow
To drive up a hill in snow, build up your speed steadily before you reach the hill and use your momentum to get over the top. Once you’re on the hill, don’t stop unless you must. Resist the urge to put your foot down. It will cause the wheels to spin and you’ll lose your momentum.
If you’re desperate, front wheel drive cars can drive up a snowy hill in reverse gear. Having the back of the car higher than the front puts more of the engine weight over the driven wheels, giving you more grip.
This unlikely approach also means that if you run out of traction and fail to climb the slope, you’re at least facing the right way to control your descent back to the bottom of the hill.
How to brake in snow
When breaking in the snow, the key is to be gentle. Gentle braking will prevent the wheels locking up under slippery surfaces. Change down into low gears earlier than normal and allow your speed to fall gradually.
Got a winter driving tip that we’ve missed? Let us know on social media.