Safe Driving in Snow and Icy Conditions

First consider: Do you REALLY need to take the car?

For local journeys walking or taking the bus could be safer options when it comes to winter travel. 

Fewer cars on our roads is not only better for the environment but also for your own and other people's safety.

If you must take the car:

If you do need to take the car, consider car-sharing as a way of reducing the number of cars on the road in icy conditions. Always ensure that all of your windows are free from snow, ice and are thoroughly de-misted before you set off. It's the law.

Ensure you are carrying blankets, water and food with you if you are travelling on the motorway.

windscreen wipers

Some useful guides to driving in icy conditions:

The AA has a great page on winter driving advice, summarised below.  

Sainsbury's also has a guide about driving in winter. It's full of useful information on preparing your car for the change in weather, along with how best to drive in different road conditions. Sainsbury's winter driving guide.

And here is a summary of the AA advice:

Getting ready to drive

  • Plan your route to follow major roads which are more likely to have been cleared and gritted

  • Clear all windows, lights and roof fully using a scraper and de-icer and use the air-con for faster demisting and to reduce condensation on cold windows

  • Get up at least 10 minutes early to give you time to prepare the car and allow extra time for your journey

  • Ensure your tyres are safe - The AA recommend at least 3mm of tread for winter motoring, and certainly no less than 2mm and check they’re inflated to the correct pressure.

  • Consider changing to winter or all season tyres

  • Batteries rarely last longer than five years so replacing one near the end of its life can save a lot of time and inconvenience at the side of the road. To conserve your battery avoid running electrical systems any longer than necessary – turn the heater fan down and switch the heated rear window off once windows are clear and turn off non-essential electrical loads like lights, rear screen heater and wipers before trying to start the engine.

  • If your car begins to overheat a few miles from home it's likely that the radiator has frozen preventing coolant from circulating. Stop straight away to avoid serious damage and allow the radiator to thaw.

  • Make sure your windscreen wipers are switched off in the park position when leaving the car, when there's risk of freezing. If you don't and the blades freeze to the screen, you could damage the blades or wiper motor when you turn the ignition on.


Driving in snow

  • Gentle manoeuvres are the key to safe driving - stopping distances are 10 times longer in ice and snow.

  • Wear comfortable, dry shoes for driving. Cumbersome, snow-covered boots will slip on the pedals.

  • Pull away in second gear, easing your foot off the clutch gently to avoid wheel-spin.

  • Up hill - avoid having to stop part way up by waiting until it is clear of other cars or by leaving plenty of room to the car in front. Keep a constant speed, choosing the most suitable gear well in advance to avoid having to change down on the hill.

  • Down hill - reduce your speed before the hill, use a low gear and try to avoid using the brakes. Leave as much room as possible between you and the car in front.

  • If you have to use brakes then apply them gently.

  • Automatic transmission - under normal driving conditions (motorways, etc) it's best to select 'Drive' and let the gearbox do the work throughout the full gear range. In slippery, snowy conditions it's best to select '2', which limits the gear changes and also makes you less reliant on the brakes. Some autos have a 'Winter' mode which locks out first gear to reduce the risk of wheel spin. Check the handbook.

  • If you get stuck, straighten the steering and clear the snow from the wheels. Put a sack or old rug in front of the driving wheels to give the tyres some grip. Once on the move again, try not to stop until you reach firmer ground.


 Return to Winter Commuting: Tips for Cycling and Walking in Ice or Snow

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