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How to drive in snow

Winter wonderland: driving in snow

  • Best tips to help you drive safely in snowy conditions

Winter is the most dangerous time of year to be on the roads, and driving in snow is quite possibly the worst situation of them all.

Snowy roads can cause skidding, unexpected crashes (especially by hitting objects the snow has obscured) and falling snow can reduce visibility to zero. Yet none of us can avoid driving in snowy conditions, unless we want to risk losing pay (or even our jobs!). So how can we make the best of a bad situation?

The Dos and Don’ts of driving in snow

Before you set off, there are a number of changes, checks and tricks you can use to keep your car in top condition:

  • Make sure your tyres have the correct pressure and tread depth. These are extra important when driving in slippery conditions like snow and ice.
  • Wear comfortable, dry shoes – not snow-covered boots. These are likely to slip off the pedals as you drive, making matters even more difficult.
  • Make sure your car is completely ready to drive before you set off. Clear the windscreen of snow, ice and mist – that’s the entire windscreen, not the driver’s side. Use a cigarette lighter to warm your key before you put it in the ignition.
  • Take a full breakdown kit with you: mobile phone, torch, tow rope, first aid kit, blankets, warm clothes and footwear, jump leads and a warning triangle. You should also have de-icer and an ice scraper.
  • Give yourself extra time to get places. Leave early for work, and don’t rush. It’s better to be late for work than never to arrive at all.

When you’re on the roads, you need to be extra careful of your handling, manoeuvres and your concentration. Conditions, both on the road and with other road users, can change in an instant, and snowy weather makes reacting to those changes a lot harder, so stay on the ball.

  • Keep any manoeuvres you do as gentle as possible. Avoid turning the steering wheel sharply, as this may cause you to skid.
  • Keep your speed sensible and steady.
  • Brake early. Stopping distances on snow or ice are ten times longer than normal.
  • Stick to middle gears going downhill and lower gears going uphill.
  • Set off in second gear to avoid wheel spin.
  • Stick to main roads as much as possible, as these will have been gritted.

If the worst comes to the worst and you can’t stop yourself from skidding or getting stuck, then follow these few simple rules to get yourself out of more trouble.

  • DON’T PANIC. This is where most drivers go wrong. You might not be able to control the car, but you can control yourself.
  • Steer into the skid. So if your back wheels are sliding to the right, turn your steering wheel right too. That will help correct the skid.
  • Don’t brake. You lose grip as soon as you hit the brakes, and grip is the one thing you want to keep! Use gears to slow yourself down if you need to.
  • If you become stuck in a snowdrift, put the handbrake and hazard warning lights on, get out (carefully! Other cars might try to get past you) and scrape as much snow away from in front of the tyres as you can. If you’ve got some matting to put down, this will give the tyres more to grip on to.

    Stay in the know about road conditions

    If you’re travelling in snowy or icy conditions, always check the weather reports for any warnings. Traffic updates will also tell you if any roads are closed or if there are any accidents on your route. Make sure you know your route before you set off, and stick to the main, gritted roads as much as possible.

    If the weather is really bad, assess whether you really need to travel. Yes, your job is important, but is it more important than your life? If you’re fairly certain you can get to your destination safely – it might only involve major roads, or might be just round the corner – then it’s probably safe to drive. If you need to use smaller routes or it’s further away, it might be worth waiting until later in the day, when the snow or ice has had a chance to melt, or until the next day, when the weather might have improved.

    Of course, if you find that even the slightest bit of snow causes you endless disruption (people who live in isolated communities tend to suffer most) then consider investing in long-term solutions. Snow chains can be fitted onto your existing tyres with very little effort and give you considerably more grip. Or, if the thought of taking them on and off every morning makes you want to scream, consider getting winter tyres fitted. Your local garage can put them on, and the increased grip and narrower design are tailored specially for winter driving in snow and ice.


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