Winter Driving: The Ultimate Guide to Driving in Snow and Ice
Published: 17 December 2019
Driving in severe winter weather poses many challenges.
Winter usually brings a blanket of snow and bad weather which poses many challenges to drivers especially when it gets slushy and freezes – causing very slippery driving conditions. When there’s snow on the roads it’s obvious that driving conditions will be challenging, and extra precautions need to be taken.
The problem is that because the UK doesn’t get much snow, that when the white stuff does arrive many drivers don’t know what to do in these difficult weather conditions.
This guide covers all the essentials of winter driving in snow and ice, from preparing for a journey, driving to maintain grip and how to get out of a slide if the worst happens – to ensure safe driving.
Be Prepared and Plan Ahead
- Wear warm clothes and shoes with good grip.
- Pack your winter car kit essentials such as rug, food, snow shovel and torch.
- Allow extra time before you need to set off to ensure the roof, windows and lights are free from snow and ice for your own safety and to ensure you don’t get stopped by the Police.
- Failure to defrost windscreen £60 fine
- Snow on roof £60 fine and 3 penalty points
- Obscured number plate £1000 fine
- Ensure your screenwash isn’t frozen and your wipers aren’t stuck to your windows.
Moving off in the Snow and Ice
- Make sure your headlights are on and can be seen by other drivers.
- When pulling away from a standstill in a car with a manual gearbox, you can use second gear to boost traction.
- Some cars have a winter mode, which does the same job – so to check whether your car has this function in the vehicle’s handbook
- Pull away gently to prevent your wheels spinning.
Driving in Snow and Ice
- Drive in higher gears to maintain momentum and don’t go too fast.
- Travelling more slowly makes wheels less likely to spin and gives you longer to react if you need to take evasive action.
- If the road has not been gritted, be wary of driving in the wheel tracks or other vehicles as compressed snow is likely to be more icy than fresh snow
- Accelerate gently, use low revs and change up to a higher gear as quickly as possible
- When approaching a bend, brake before you actually start to turn the steering wheel. If your car does lose grip try not to panic; the key thing is to take your foot off the accelerator and make sure that your wheels are pointing in the direction you want to go in.
- Watch out for cars around you that may be sliding or losing control.
If it’s very cold, treat all wet-looking surfaces as though they’re frozen because they probably are.
Stopping or Slowing in the Snow and Ice
- Maintain large braking distances to the car in front. A 5 or 6 second gap is advisable
- Drive so that you do not rely on your brakes to be able to stop – it’s advisable to change down through the gears to slow the car, rather than solely using the brakes.
- Apply the brake pedal gently and avoid triggering the ABS, because the system can struggle to cope if conditions are very slippery.
- Older cars without ABS may stop sooner, thanks to the locked wheels causing a snowplough effect that sees snow build up in front of them.
- If you have to drive on snow covered hills, keep the speed slow from the top. It’s easier to maintain a steady speed from the top than try and slow down on the descent.
- Drive smoothly and with carefully. Treat every control – brakes, accelerator, steering, clutch and gears – very delicately
- When grip is reduced by snow or ice, all of your inputs should be smooth and gradual. Any sudden inputs with the accelerator, brakes or steering can cause the tyres to lose grip on the road surface, and you could lose control of the car.
- Treat the steering sensitively, too – sudden manoeuvres can cause you to go straight on instead of turning (understeer) or even spin, where the back of the car tries to overtake the front (oversteer).
Driving in Snow and Ice FAQs
What to do if you slide on snow or ice?
- Don’t panic!
- If the front wheels start sliding, ease off the brake and accelerator and straighten the steering wheel to allow the tyres to regain grip.
- If the back wheels start drifting, turn the wheel into the slide (known as opposite lock).
- Avoid standing on the brakes which will engage ABS
- to regain grip, at which point you can regain control.
- If the tail of the car starts to slide, steer towards the direction of the skid and gently ease off the accelerator and brake. If you start to slide, never brake or accelerate sharply, as this will exacerbate the slide.
What to do if you get stuck in the snow?
The advice above is designed to help you avoid getting stuck in the snow. But if it does happen follow these steps to get unstuck.
- Turn the wheel from left to right to push snow away from the wheels.
- Use a shovel to clear snow out of the way.
- If you have one put your traction mats in front of the wheels to get traction – alternatively use gravel, sand or cat litter.
- Shift from forward to reverse and back again. Giving a light touch on the accelerator until the vehicle regains traction and gets going again.
Do I Need Winter Tyres, Snow Socks or Snow Chains?
You only need to invest in winter tyres, snow socks or snow chains If you live in a part of the UK which sees regular snowfall in winter, such as the Scottish Highlands.
Winter tyres are designed to offer optimum traction and grip in cold conditions of -7c or lower. A front-wheel-drive family car fitted with winter tyres has improved stopping distances and is safer and more capable in snow and ice than a four wheel drive SUV fitted with normal tyres.
Snow chains are best suited for driving in deep snow, so rarely needed in the UK.
It’s important to have them properly fitted to avoid bodywork, suspension and brake pipe damage, so it’s best to ensure that you know what you’re doing before attempting to.
Snow socks were marketed as a cheaper and simpler alternative to snow chains. They are ideal for areas that have unpredictable and lighter snow coverage Snow socks are a great “middle ground” option and work well in slushy, wet snow conditions (perfect for the UK!). They are a lot easier to fit than snow chains and provide more grip than winter tyres. They are also a more economical choice, compared to snow chains.
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