Our guide for safe driving during the winter months

Georgia Petrie

Written by

Georgia Petrie

driving in snow
  • Our top tips for driving in wintry conditions
  • How to drive safely in snow and ice
  • Don't forget your winter essentials

Clothes and duvets aren’t the only things that need changing when the weather starts to go colder. Drivers should take certain precautions in the darker, colder months to keep themselves and other road users safe.

Keep reading to make sure you’re up to date with the latest winter weather driving tips.

It’s always best to plan ahead

Even though you might not be travelling many places at the moment, make sure you’ve checked the weather before you’re heading out on a trip. As important as it feels to check if it’ll rain at your BBQ in summer, it’s even more important to know if you should expect snow, ice or heavy rain when you’re going on a car journey.

It's also important to pick the right roads and avoid areas that will be particularly weather-beaten. Use navigation apps or a sat-nav to check where traffic is heaviest so you can avoid any accident spots.

When driving, look well ahead for potential hazards to give yourself time to act. It’s also worth fitting winter or all-season tyres to your car if you live somewhere regularly affected by snow or ice, or if you live down a hill or steep driveway that’ll be hard to traverse in icy conditions. If you do decide to change your tyres, it’s best to change all four at the same time.

Driving in heavy rain or on wet roads

The best advice is to slow down and leave enough space between you and the car in front; stopping distances are at least doubled in wet weather conditions. Use dipped headlights so that other drivers can see you more easily (and you don’t blind them) and it’s best to keep your air-con on as this will stop your windows from misting up.

Driving too fast through water could lead to tyres losing contact with the road, which is called ‘aquaplaning’. How can you tell this is happening? Your steering will suddenly feel light. To regain grip, straighten the steering wheel and ease off the gas pedal (but don’t brake). If you have to brake, don’t brake harshly otherwise the car might lose control. Allow your speed to reduce until you gain back full control of the steering again.

Driving in the dark

The RAC advises that drivers turn dipped headlights on about an hour before sunset and keep them on an hour after sunrise to ensure that you’re always clearly visible to other road users. You should only use your full beam on unlit country roads. If you see another car coming towards you on the other side of the road, switch back to dipped beam lights straight away or you’ll dazzle the other driver.

Take extra care when driving around schools and in residential areas so you have time to react if someone does happen to step out or cycles in front of you suddenly. You should also watch out for animals, particularly on country roads.

If you’re very nervous about night-time driving, it’s always a good idea to brush up your skills with something like a Pass Plus course, which will give you extra skills and techniques for driving in certain situations.

Driving in snow and ice

The most important advice when driving in snow and icy conditions is to take it slow. Stopping distances are 10 times longer than in dry conditions, so you’ll want to drive cautiously. A higher gear may be more appropriate to aid grip on ice or packed snow as well.

If you’re on a hill, leave plenty of room between yourself and other cars in case you or the car in front slides backwards. Keep a constant speed and try to avoid having to change gear on the hill, too. If you have to use your brakes, apply them gently.

Black ice is a thin layer of ice on the road surface. It’s particularly treacherous as it’s transparent, meaning most drivers don’t see it ahead of time. If the temperature is low and the road surface looks wet, be careful and drive with caution.

If you do hit a patch of black ice, don’t panic. Keep the steering wheel straight and maintain your speed. Don’t hit the brakes. Use the gears to slow down if necessary, but avoid any sudden movements that could destabilise the car. The key is staying steady so the car manages to slow itself down.

If you slide or skid in snow or on ice, stay calm and steer gently into it. For example, if the rear of the car is sliding to the right, steer to the right. Don’t brake or accelerate hard as that will encourage the car to steer off course.

If you get stuck in snow, clear the snow from the wheels and the wheel arches. If you’ve got anything like salt, dry dirt or a sandbag in your car, place it in front of the wheels to try to gain traction under your wheels. Essentially, you just need something that will help the wheels gain traction with the road to get it moving.

Some winter essentials

The darker, colder months bring with them increased chances of traffic delays, road accidents and breakdowns - but being prepared makes a world of difference if you end up stuck on the roads!

A torch is very useful if you suffer a breakdown at night, while blankets and warm clothes could be a life-saver if you end up stranded. A battery jump pack, drinkable water, ice scraper, first aid kit, tyre inflator, screenwash and phone battery charger pack are also advisable to carry in your car just in case. You’ll thank yourself if you do!

See also: 

Cars that are good in snow

Best cars that are all-wheel drive

Best large crossovers for £15,000