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Winter driving safety tips

Bad weather can strike suddenly and severely so the best advice is to stay off the road but if you must drive, make sure you are properly prepared.

Hand wearing gloves scraping ice from a car wind shield

Listen to weather forecasts and traffic reports - don't travel if the police or road service organisations (eg AA, RAC) advise against it.

Always drive safely according to the weather conditions and give yourself time and space - arriving safely should be your aim.

If you get into trouble, stay with your vehicle until help arrives, if possible. If you do have to leave your vehicle, make yourself visible to others.

Remember - your vehicle and road safety are ultimately your responsibility.

Get your vehicle winter ready!

Be prepared if wintry weather is forecast

  • Is your journey necessary - if it is, plan it and give yourself plenty of time
  • Tell someone your intended route and how long you think it is going to take
  • Listen to the radio for details about road and weather conditions
  • Make sure you're properly dressed for winter temperatures. Don't rely on your vehicle's heating system. It may fail or the vehicle might break down and you might have to get out to repair it or walk to find assistance
  • Take your mobile phone with you and make sure it's fully charged
  • Keep your fuel tank at least half full so you don't run out if you get stuck in a drift or in gridlocked traffic

Think about keeping these things in your vehicle:

  • Warning triangle
  • Warm coat
  • First aid kit
  • Torch
  • Seat belt cutter
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Travel rug
  • Tow rope
  • Bottled drinking water
  • Recovery service contact number
  • Map
  • Pen and paper
  • Bar of chocolate (any excuse!)


Driving on snow

  • Clear all your windows and lights before setting off - avoid 'tank driver' syndrome
  • Use gentle acceleration and maybe a gear higher than you would normally use at that speed to avoid wheel spin. Ease off the accelerator if the wheels start to spin
  • Avoid sharp braking. All but the most gentle of braking will lock your wheels on packed snow. If you have to slow down, go into a lower gear (first, second or third) and use the brake pedal very gently
  • If you're caught in a rut or deep snow, don't rev the engine. Instead ease off the revs and consider using the next highest gear to restore grip. Revs will not provide grip in snow. Try to manoeuvre the car back and forward to gently creep away
  • Watch out for any build-up of snow caused by snowploughs

Snow socks

If you don't want to go to the expense of buying winter tyres, snow socks are an alternative to get you going on packed snow.

Snow socks are covers that wrap around your driving wheels like a hair net and the fabric sticks to the snow. You'll need to remove them once you're back on clear road, otherwise you'll shred them, but they will get you moving again.

They're worth considering even if you have winter tyres because they can help you get up steep hills.

Snow chains are another option. They do the same job but they can be more fiddly to fit than snow socks and they also need to be removed as soon as you are off the packed snow.


Driving on ice

  • Keep your speed down
  • Don't assume roads have been gritted
  • If roads have been gritted, don't assume they're not slippery
  • Be gentle on the brakes, clutch, gears and accelerator
  • Don't be fooled by how warm it is inside the car. Black ice is invisible and can catch out the most careful of drivers
  • Approach corners at a steady speed, in a low gear and be gentle on the accelerator. Don't touch the clutch unless you absolutely have to. Steer smoothly and avoid braking on bends. The lack of tyre grip will make cornering harder and your vehicle will be forced outwards
  • Braking distance on ice can be 10 times more than the normal distance on dry roads, especially if you're driving downhill
  • If you're driving downhill, use a lower gear to let the engine compression hold the vehicle back
  • If a skid happens don't brake - no matter how strong the temptation. Slow down by gently easing the pressure on the accelerator pedal and, if appropriate, de-clutch until you regain control of the vehicle
  • Always give plenty of room to a gritting lorry


Driving in fog

  • When you see fog turn on your headlights immediately but keep them dipped
  • Slow down and abide by any warning lights at the side of the road. If the lights are on, don't speed up if visibility improves - fog can be patchy
  • Keep your distance from the vehicle in front
  • Don't accelerate to move away from a vehicle that's too close behind you. If you have to slow down suddenly use your hazard lights to warn other road users
  • Don't dazzle other drivers with fog lamps. You should only use high intensity rear fog lights when visibility is less than 100 metres and you should switch them off when they're not needed
  • It is an offence to use fog lights at any other time
  • When you're coming up to a junction open your window, turn off any music and listen for approaching traffic


Driving in wet weather

  • Reduce your speed and leave more space between you and other vehicles - stopping distances are increased in the rain so leave at least four seconds between you and the car in front
  • If you see standing water on the roads, slow down to reduce the chance of your tyres losing contact with the road. If your steering feels light then you could be aquaplaning.
  • If you aquaplane in your car then gently ease off the accelerator to regain grip with the road.  Do not brake, but allow your car to gently regain control until it's safe to drive on.
  • Large and fast-moving vehicles will cause a lot of spray and reduce visibility so avoid overtaking them on dual carriageways unless it is safe to do so
  • Be considerate with pedestrians and cyclists, avoid spraying them as you drive through water
  • Use dipped headlights so that other drivers can see you more clearly and avoid using rear fog lights as they can mask your rear brake lights and distract other drivers
  • Tune in to local radio bulletins for road updates and flood warnings
  • Keep your air conditioning on to help demist windows - they will quickly steam up in wet weather.  You can use air conditioning with heating turned up.
  • If you are unlucky enough to brake down in heavy rain, then avoid lifting your bonnet until help has arrived. This will prevent too much water getting into the electrics.
  • If water is shallow enough to drive through safely then try to pick a sensible route through avoiding any obstacles which might damage your car.  Keep driving in a low gear and do test your brakes carefully once through the water.  If in any doubt do not drive through flood water.