Driving in Snow & Ice

Driving in snow and ice can be extremely hazardous, particularly black ice, which may not be visible to pedestrians or motorists. You should always avoid driving in these types of conditions if at all possible, but if you do have to make a journey, make sure that you know how to prepare and how to adjust your driving to suit the conditions.

Before You Leave

  • Check the local and national weather forecasts and listen out for travel information.
  • Ask yourself - is your journey absolutely necessary? Do not put yourself and others at risk by driving in bad weather or poor visibility conditions unless the trip is essential.
  • If possible, try to wait until the roads have been gritted before travelling. Try to plan your journey using major routes that may have been salted, and avoid side roads that may be blocked.
  • Allow extra time for your journey, and let someone know your departure time, route, destination and estimated time of arrival.
  • Make sure that you have enough fuel for your journey; driving in heavy traffic and stop/start conditions uses up more fuel than normal.
  • Put an emergency kit in your car, containing essential items such as warm clothes, waterproof clothing, boots, a spade and a torch. You should also bring along some high energy food, such as boiled sweets or chocolate, along with some drinks. If you're planning on a long journey, you may want to take a thermos flask filled with hot soup.
  • If you take any medication make sure that you bring along extra supplies if necessary.
  • Take a mobile phone if you have one, making sure that the battery is fully charged.
  • Clear your windows and mirrors before you set out using a windscreen scraper or a de-icer. Never use warm water from a kettle, as this may crack the glass. You must make sure that all the windows and mirrors are completely demisted and totally cleared of ice; it is illegal to drive with poor visibility. Never drive with a small hole cut through the ice on your windscreen.

On Your Journey

  • Always be aware of your limits and those of other drivers.
  • Use dipped headlights in heavy rain or snow, and put your fog lights on if the visibility drops below 100 m. However, you must remember to turn them off if the conditions improve, as they can dazzle other road users and obscure your brake lights.
  • Accelerate very gently when pulling away to avoid the risk of sliding. If you do begin to slide, change up to the next gear; this will decrease the force applied to the wheels and will allow you to pull away cleanly.
  • Drive slowly and leave a much bigger gap between your car and the one ahead; it can take up to ten times longer to stop in snowy or icy conditions than on a dry road.
  • Manoeuvre slowly and gently; avoid making any sudden movements, such as harsh braking or sudden acceleration.
  • To avoid skidding when you brake, change down to a lower gear, allow your speed to fall and use the brake pedal gently. You must pump the brakes rather than slamming them on, otherwise the wheels may lock and the vehicle will slide out of control. It is always best to use engine braking alternately with the brake pedal.
  • When driving, use a higher gear ratio than you would when travelling in dry weather (for example, second gear rather than first). This will help you to decrease the risk of sliding and wheel spin when travelling uphill or on the flat. However, when going downhill, use a lower gear ratio as this will help keep your speed down without having to over-use the brakes.
  • If your wheels do lock and you start to skid, do not slam the brakes on. Simply ease off the accelerator pedal and the brake pedal to recover traction, and then brake again, gently and gradually.
  • If the front end of your car begins to slide whilst you are tackling a bend, reduce your speed by easing off the accelerator and gently press the brake without locking the wheels. If you are in a front wheel drive vehicle and your car loses grip at the rear, gently accelerate to regain the balance. If your rear wheel drive car loses grip at the rear, ease off the accelerator until the rear regains grip, and then re-apply very gently to maintain your speed. Do not brake, as this will accentuate the imbalance at the rear.
  • If you breakdown or get stuck, stay with your car and tie something brightly coloured to your aerial. Make sure that you wrap up warm whilst you are awaiting rescue.
  • If you do go outside, make sure that you wear several layers of clothing to prevent loss of body heat. If you start to shiver uncontrollably, become drowsy or your speech becomes slow or slurred, you may be getting hypothermia. Keep moving your arms and legs to help the blood circulate.