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How to drive safely in the snow

A car travelling down a road in icy, snowy conditions.

When the weather grows colder and the chance of snow and ice increases, it’s sensible to take a few extra precautions when travelling. If you’re driving, it’s even more crucial to follow safety advice.

If you have a car journey planned, whether it's to see relatives at Christmas or take a well-earned winter break, read on. We’ve put together some useful tips on how to drive safely in the snow. This includes how to prepare for your journey, and what to do if you encounter snow and ice on the roads.

Is it safe to drive in the snow?

Driving in the snow does potentially carry more risk than driving in warmer, drier and sunnier weather. This is because snow and ice can make road surfaces slippery, while also obscuring road markings and reducing the visibility of other cars on the road. Extreme cold temperatures can sometimes cause problems with your car too.

If you’re nervous about driving in wintry conditions, it could be better to leave the car at home and make other travel arrangements. But if you’re a confident driver, you can simply take a few extra precautions to stay safe (and keep others safe) when driving in snowy weather.

How to drive safely in snow

Driving safely in snow involves a few changes to how you might normally drive. The first important step though is to prepare your vehicle:

  • Check your tyres, making sure they have adequate tread, so they’ll grip securely on the road surface.
  • Make sure your car is fully topped up with good quality screen wash, as this can prevent water from freezing – which would also stop your windscreen wipers from working properly.
  • You should also make sure to clear all snow from your car. Not only could snow slip down and obscure your vision while driving, but it’s also against the law to drive with snow on your car.
  • The last bit of preparation to do is check your footwear and clothing. You need to have full control behind the wheel, so make sure you have proper footwear that is both dry and comfortable. It could be a good idea to wear some warm or thermal clothing too.

With both you and your vehicle prepared, it’s time to hit the roads. Here are some helpful tips to remember for safe winter driving:

  • Accelerate gently when setting off and get to a higher gear as soon as you can. If you can move quickly into second gear when moving off, this can help to reduce wheel slip.
  • Maintain a more-than-cautious stopping distance away from the car in front. It’s recommended to leave as much as 10 times the usual gap in snowy and icy conditions.
  • If you encounter black ice or a slippery spot, stay calm if your vehicle starts to skid. Steer gently into it and avoid stamping on the brake. You should also keep both hands on the wheel.
  • Use dipped headlights when driving in heavy snow. This is more for the drivers behind you, as daytime lights may not make your rear lights bright enough. If visibility is poor, use your fog lights. However, you should be considerate of other drivers and turn them off when visibility improves.
  • On ungritted roads, avoid driving in the wheel tracks of other vehicles. These are likely to consist of compressed snow, which can be icier and slippery than fresh snow.
  • Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from the glare of the snow.
  • Keep your speed down, so you have more time to stop, brake gently, steer and react to changing situations around you.

Bring emergency provisions

When driving in snowy weather, it’s wise to be prepared just in case you do break down. If you get stuck in the snow and are waiting for recovery, you’ll need to stay warm, dry and safe. This is why it’s a smart idea to pack some emergency provisions, such as:

  • A hi-vis vest and warning triangle to place near your vehicle.
  • A torch or emergency lamp.
  • Warm and waterproof clothing, plus a blanket.
  • A mobile phone charger.
  • A first aid kit.
  • A shovel for digging out snow around your car's wheels.
  • De-icer kit, including scraper, de-icing solution and spare screen wash.
  • A set of jump leads.
  • Some food and drink.

You might want to pack a ‘breakdown bag’ containing a fleece lined cardigan, torch, coat, hat, gloves and anything else you need, and keep it in the car. Crucially, don’t forget to write down the phone number for your breakdown service.

Allow plenty of extra time

In any kind of extreme or hazardous conditions, it makes sense to keep it slow and steady when driving. Give yourself plenty of time for your journey, so you’re not tempted to rush. Bear in mind that there may be delays, diversions and congestion, and some roads might be closed due to the snow.

Check your journey before you leave

Before setting off, plan your route carefully. This will ensure there are no surprises along the way, so you can simply focus on driving safely. If you have a sat nav, this could be very useful for navigating. You might also want to pack an actual map, just in case your smartphone has no battery or signal.

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