Advice for driving in snow and ice

Driving in snowy conditions isn’t much fun – in fact, it can be a nerve-racking and dangerous experience. To help minimise the risk of an accident or breakdown, here’s our advice for driving in snow and ice.

Driving in snowy conditions isn’t much fun – in fact, it can be a nerve-racking and dangerous experience. To help minimise the risk of an accident or breakdown, here’s our advice for driving in snow and ice.

Daniel Hutson
Motor insurance expert
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Posted 27 SEPTEMBER 2021

Driving in snow and ice

While the first flurries of snow can be thrilling for some – especially the kids – driving in snowy conditions isn’t so much fun. Slippery roads, freezing temperatures and poor visibility can make for a nerve-racking and dangerous journey – even for the most experienced driver.

When it’s snowing, the best advice would be to stay at home and avoid driving altogether. But if you have to make an essential journey, here are our top tips for keeping safe out on the roads.

Before you leave

A few flurries can quickly turn into a heavy snowstorm, so make sure you’re prepared for the worst – even if it’s a short journey. Wear warm clothes and sturdy shoes or boots that are comfortable to drive in.

Pack a winter emergency kit

Always carry these things in your car during winter:

  • ice scraper
  • can of de-icer
  • spare screenwash
  • torch with spare batteries
  • first-aid kit
  • shovel
  • jump leads
  • warning triangle
  • a piece of old carpet or even some cat litter – these can be used to give you traction under the tyres if you get stuck in the snow
  • an in-car phone charger

Before you set off in snowy conditions, it’s also a good idea to pack:

  • an extra jacket, waterproofs and a warm blanket
  • a hot drink (in a flask) and a bottle of water
  • snacks

Most important of all:

Make sure your phone is fully charged before you leave, and ensure the number of your breakdown provider is stored in it, should you need to call for help.

Check your car

It’s essential that your car is in good working condition and properly maintained and serviced so it’s fit for the harsh winter weather.

Read our essential winter safety checklist to prepare your car for winter.

Before you set off:

  • Check your tyres – make sure they’re inflated at the right pressure and have at least 3mm of tread
  • Check your wipers are working and that the blades are in good condition
  • Top up your screenwash
  • Clean your mirrors and headlights – make sure all the bulbs are working
  • Clear all snow from the car’s roof, windscreen, mirrors and windows
  • Give yourself time to de-ice your car; and not just the windscreen – by law, every window must have full visibility
  • If you have an automatic car and a ‘snow mode’ feature on your gearbox, use it to gain more traction – if not, some manufacturers recommend selecting ‘2’ in icy conditions

Plan your journey

Before you set off, check the weather forecast and make sure you have access to the latest traffic reports during your journey.

Where possible, plan your route around major roads – they’re more likely to be gritted and cleared than minor roads and small country lanes.

Make sure you have enough fuel – snowy conditions often mean traffic jams, diversions and delays, which could make your journey much longer than anticipated.

Allow more time

Give yourself more time than you normally would for de-icing, and for the journey itself. Driving in snow and ice is nerve-racking as it is – the last thing you want to do is rush.

How to drive in the snow

Drive more slowly than you would normally. The key is to drive as smoothly and carefully as possible for the conditions. Speeding on frozen roads is an accident waiting to happen, but too slow means you might not have enough power and traction when you need it.

Keep your distance

As a rule of thumb, you should allow at least four car lengths between you and the vehicle in front; this should give you plenty of room if you need to brake. Better still, it gives you time to ease off the accelerator rather than having to brake at all. Just remember that stopping distances in the snow are up to 10 times longer than in normal conditions.

Brake gently

By suddenly slamming on the brakes, you risk skidding on the icy surface and losing control of the vehicle. Easy does it – gently press down on and off the brakes until you reach a slower speed or a controlled stop.

Turn your headlights on in daytime

Yes, even if you’re driving during the day. Your lights will help you see the road ahead in grim conditions and make you more visible to other road users.

Avoid cruise control

Handy on the motorway in dry conditions, cruise control could be hazardous on snowy roads. When the automatic feature is enabled, you might not be able to pick up on a change in traction if the road conditions change – for example, if you hit a black ice spot.

Driving uphill

Keep your distance from the vehicle in front so you don’t have to slow down or stop halfway up the hill. Keep to the same speed and try not to change gear, if possible.

Driving downhill

Again, leave plenty of room between you and the car in front. Keep in a low gear and drive slowly to avoid having to brake.

What if I get stuck in the snow?

If you’re stuck in a snow drift, don’t keep revving the engine to move – it will only make the wheels spin and dig you in deeper.

  • If it’s safe to do so, get out of your car and use the shovel (from your winter emergency kit) to clear the snow out of the way
  • Lay the carpet or cat litter (that we also mentioned earlier) under the wheels – this will give your tyres extra grip
  • Gently press down on the accelerator and shift from forward to reverse and back again
  • If you can’t move your car, stay with it, keep warm, and call your breakdown provider for help.

Should I get winter tyres or snow chains?

If you live in an area where it snows a lot every year, it might be worthwhile buying winter tyres to get you through the cold season. These have a deeper tread than standard tyres and can give you more traction in heavy snow.

Snow chains are really only suitable in extremely snowy conditions – for example, if you live in a remote, rural area in the Scottish Highlands. They should only be used on roads that are covered by a thick layer of compacted snow or ice. You’ll also need to know how to fit and remove them correctly.

Snow chains must be removed when you get to a cleared road, otherwise they’ll seriously damage your tyres.

Another alternative is snow socks. They’re easier to fit and remove than snow chains and are cheaper to buy than a set of winter tyres.

Did you know?

In many European countries, it’s a legal requirement to carry snow chains in your car or have winter tyres fitted during the winter months. If you’re driving to Europe for a winter break, check which laws apply to the country you’re visiting before you go.

Frequently asked questions

Does Pass Plus teach you to drive in winter?

If you’ve just passed your driving test, the Pass Plus Scheme could give you the skills and confidence to drive in adverse weather conditions like snow. Some insurance providers might also offer a discount for new drivers with a Pass Plus Certificate.

What type of car is better for winter conditions?

4x4 vehicles tend to give you better grip and higher ground clearance on icy roads and rough terrain – so they’re ideal for snowy conditions.

What should I do if I have an accident when driving in the snow?

If you’re involved in an accident , no matter how minor, you should report it.

  • If it’s a minor prang and you don’t need an emergency response – for example, you slid into a parked car – call 101
  • If someone is hurt or vehicles are blocking the road – call 999

Even a minor incident should be reported to the police within 24 hours. You should also let your car insurance provider know (even if you don’t want to make a claim).

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