Driving in snow and ice: top winter weather driving tips

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Driving in snow and ice
How to prepare
Essential checklist
If you get stuck
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Driving in snow and ice

Winter is here, and with it comes snow, ice and nasty conditions which can make driving a bit trickier.

Winter weather can cause disruption on the roads, especially in the UK where we aren’t always as well equipped as other countries to deal with it.

Unfortunately, road accident statistics are as stark at this time of year as the weather can be, so it really does pay to be careful.

Here's our top tips on driving safely in snow and ice 👇

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Accidents on the road

The Department for Transport’s Road Traffic Statistics from 2016-2020, analysed by Rivervale, make for sobering reading.

Five years of data from 206 local authorities, looking at the number of accidents during snow, ice, floods, fog and darkness, found:

  • On average a road accident occurs every hour in conditions like snow, ice, floods, fog and darkness.
  • 44,783 accidents occurred in the UK in wintry weather, with Kent seeing the highest local figure with 2,010.

How to prepare for winter driving

Luckily, there are plenty of steps you can take to ensure you and your vehicle are ready to drive in wintry conditions.

Dress warmly

Firstly, don’t go out driving in shorts and a t-shirt. You may be able to turn the heaters up and put your seat warmers on to make your car Caribbean toasty inside, but if you break down or have an accident things will get chilly.

Make sure you and your passengers wear warm winter clothes and sturdy footwear for journeys and have some waterproofs in the car, just in case.

Allow extra time and plan well

Get up earlier to give you the time to de-ice the car and allow much longer than usual for journeys. Bad weather slows everyone down and roads can be more congested.

Plan journeys around major roads, which are more likely to be cleared/gritted. And avoid shortcuts on minor roads, which may not have been treated and could see you getting stuck.

Driving in snow and ice can be tricky but our tips will help
Driving in snow and ice can be tricky but our tips will help

Check your tyres

We may not think of this often, but in the winter it’s really important.

You should check for adequate tread, as poor tyres won’t grip well when driving on snow and ice. And if you live in an area where snow is common, it might be worth changing to winter tyres with deeper tread.

If conditions are really bad you might even consider the use of ‘snow socks’ or snow chains. Snow chains are useful for those living in extra snowy climates, as they provide much greater grip.

Increase your visibility

A good start is to keep your car clean! Make sure you have topped up your screen wash and use a good quality one that protects down to at least -35C to prevent the water from freezing.

If you don’t, your windscreen wipers could be useless in extreme conditions - and that’s when you need them most.

Check you’re topped up

A little squirt of WD-40 can be used to prevent door locks freezing up.

Ensure your fuel tank is topped up in the winter. This way, if you do get caught out in bad weather, you'll have enough fuel to make it home, or to be able to keep the engine running to keep warm.

If you do get stuck, make sure snow doesn’t block the exhaust, as fumes can leak into the vehicle.

Essential checklist

It’s a great idea to keep these things in your vehicle throughout the winter months so you don’t get caught out.

  • Fully charged mobile phone and spare charger
  • Personal medication (locked away from any little ones)
  • First aid kit
  • Sat-nav/printed route (in case your phone doesn’t have it or runs out)
  • Emergency contact (both in paper form and on your phone)
  • Blanket, sleeping bag or spare warm clothes
  • Shovel
  • Ice scraper and de-icer
  • Torch and batteries
  • Snacks (including something sweet for energy)
Take it easy and use common sense when driving in snow
Take it easy and use common sense when driving in snow
Driving in wind and rain ☔️
We've also got the ultimate guide to driving in stormy weather. Read more.

Tips for driving in snow

Now it’s time to actually hit the road and start your journey! Here’s our top tips for driving in snow:

  • Make sure your shoes are ‘sensible’ - choose something sturdy and dry
  • Use low revs and change up to a higher gear as quickly as possible
  • Move off in second gear (or ‘winter mode’ if your car has it)
  • Maintain safe stopping distances, leaving up to ten times the normal gap
  • If you need to go uphill, leave plenty of room in front to maintain a constant speed without having to change gear
  • Use a low gear for going downhill and don’t brake unnecessarily
  • Brake before you start to turn the steering wheel when approaching bends to help you avoid slipping. But don’t panic if your car does lose grip. Take your foot off the accelerator and slowly make sure your wheels are pointing in the direction you want to go in
  • Heavy snow calls for dipped headlights
  • Put your fog lights on if visibility drops below 100m
  • Try not to drive in the same wheel tracks of other vehicles, as compacted snow is icier and more slippery than fresh snow
Our favourite scenic winter road trips ☃️
Here's our favourite wintry drives. Read more.

What to do if you get stuck

If you get stuck in a snow drift you should start by turning your wheels from side to side to push the snow out of the way.

Stop if your wheels keep spinning, as continuing will only dig you in deeper.

If your car is surrounded by snow before you set out, use a shovel to clear it out of the way. You could also pour cat litter, sand or gravel in front of the wheels to help get traction.

It’s a good idea to shift from forward to reverse and back again to try and get some movement – but if you can't move your car, stay warm by keeping the engine running.

Again, make sure the exhaust pipe isn’t blocked by snow.

If you’re stuck somewhere far from home, stay in or close to your car. In heavy snow, due to the extreme lack of visibility, it is easy to get disorientated and lost, so don’t risk losing your way.

Car insurance for all weather

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Updated on 31st March 2023