How to Drive Safely in Snowy Weather

Added: 05 March 2018

With many parts of the UK gripped by some of the coldest weather we have experienced for a while and snow covering many parts of the country, comparisons are being made with the record breaking freeze of 1963. However, the country is much different today, not least of all because the roads now have many more vehicles on them. Driving in the snow can be a real challenge for Northern Ireland's motorists because we often go several winters without having much snow, it is therefore crucial to prepare adequately before setting out your journey in the ice and snow.How to Drive Safely in Snowy Weather

Preparation & Journey Planning

Before setting off be sure to plan your journey carefully and use traffic news and updates to find out about possible delays. You could use the RAC Route Planner or a similar service to get updates on traffic to help make your journey as safe as possible. Allow for more time than you would normally to de-ice your windscreen, mirrors, lights etc and be sure to clear the inside of your windscreen too. Also clear any snow from the roof of your car as driving with heavy snow on your car or without full visibility could result in you breaking the law!

If your door locks get frozen, try warming the key or use a spray de-icer to clear your lock. It’s also worth noting that the car doors can become frozen shut, even when unlocked, so spray de-icer or WD40 onto the rubber door seals the night before. Other checks to carry out before setting off are:

  • Check your wipers - Switch them off before starting the engine as you could blow the wiper control fuse or damage the rubber if they are frozen to the screen, and they need to be in good working order to clear your windscreen
  • Check your tyres - Check for adequate tread, poor tyres will not grip when driving on snow or ice and if you live in an area where heavy snow is common it may be worth changing to winter tyres or even using snow socks or chains
  • Check your screen wash - Use screen wash fluid that protects to at least -35 degrees to prevent freezing
  • Pack Emergency Equipment - Equip your vehicle with the following; demisting pad, torch (wind-up so you don’t run out of battery), hi-vis vest, a blanket, some food & drink, shovel, mobile phone & charger, map, first aid kit, warning triangle and jump leads. Another great idea is carry a square of carpet to place under your drive wheels if you get stuck in the snow

Tips for Driving in the Snow

  • Wear comfortable and dry footwear
  • Accelerate gently, use low revs and change up to a higher gear as quickly as possible
  • Move off in second gear as this will help reduce wheel slip - some cars have a winter mode which does the same job
  • Maintain a safe stopping distances between you and the car in front, leaving as much as 10 times the normal recommended gap
  • Prepare for an uphill by leaving plenty of room in front so you can maintain a constant speed without the need for changing gear
  • Use a low gear for going downhill and try to avoid braking unless necessary, make sure you leave plenty of space between you and the car in front
  • When approaching a bend, brake before you start to turn the steering wheel. If your car does lose grip try not to panic; the important thing is to take your foot off the accelerator and make sure that your wheels are pointing in the direction you want to go in
  • If you start to skid steer gently into it, for example if the rear of the car is sliding to the right, steer to the right. Do not take your hands off the steering wheel or apply the brakes
  • When driving in snow use your dipped headlights as daytime running lights don’t always turn on the rear lights
  • If visibility drops below a 100m switch on your fog lights but do remember to turn them off when the visibility improves
  • If the road has not been gritted, be wary of driving in the wheel tracks of other vehicles as compacted snow is more likely to be more icy than soft snow
  • Always operate the brakes, steering, accelerator and gear change as smoothly and maintain a constant engine speed where possible to reduce wheel spin or skidding
  • Sunglasses can help to reduce the glare of low winter sun on the snow
  • Think about the situation that you’re driving in as there could be patches of road that have remained in the shade and which could stay icy when the rest of the road has thawed, under bridges for example

Is your Journey Absolutely Necessary?

Having a crash is just one of the many hazards associated with cold weather driving. Many motorists are forced to abandon their vehicles or even spend the night in them through no fault of their own because the road ahead is blocked. You may well be a very confident and skilled driver, in an all-wheel drive vehicle, but it only needs a snow drift or an accident ahead for you to be stuck in your car for several hours. Therefore, when conditions are really bad, only drive when absolutely necessary, and if you do decide to venture out have a safe Journey!

Click Complete Guide to Safe Driving in the Snow to read the RAC’s full guide.Driving With Snow Chains


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