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Winter driving advice

Driving in winter weather

Make sure you adapt your driving for different conditions. In the wet, fog and ice keep well back from the car in front and always drive slower in the dark.
  • Take extra care in bad weather – stopping distances double in wet weather, and are even longer in ice and snow.
  • In snow or bad weather conditions, avoid driving altogether if you can.
  • Plan your route before you set off and check the latest weather forecast.
  • Watch out for other road users like pedestrians, cyclists and horses, who may be harder to see in bad weather. 
  • Try not to brake, accelerate or manoeuver quickly to keep control of your vehicle.
  • If you skid, ease off the accelerator but don’t brake suddenly. 

Maintain your vehicle

During the winter months it's always advised to make sure your wipers and lights are in good working order and your battery fully charged.
  • Check your tyres are in good condition and have a tread-depth of at least 3mm.
  • Keep an ice-scraper and de-icer in your vehicle at all times. 
  • Make sure your windscreen is completely clear before you set off so you can easily spot any hazards on the road. 

Be prepared 

Most journeys will be straight-forward and you don't need to worry but it's always best to make sure you and your family are safe in the event of being stranded by having a grab bag in the boot of your vehicle. Your emergency bag can contain:
  • a torch
  • a blanket/warm clothes
  • food and drink
  • a spade
  • reflective jacket/vest
  • a phone charger.

Driving in snow and ice

  • 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 – check whether your car has this function in the vehicle’s handbook.
  • Get your speed right and maintain 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 actually start to turn the steering wheel. If your car does lose grip try not to panic; the key 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.
  • When driving in heavy snow, make sure that you use your dipped headlights. Relying on daytime running lights is not enough, because they don’t always put lights on the back of your car.
  • If visibility drops below a 100m, put your fog lights on.  But remember to turn them off when the visibility improves.
  • If the road has not been gritted, be wary of driving in the wheel-tracks or other vehicles as compressed snow is likely to be icier than fresh snow.
  • Controls such as the brakes, as well as the steering, accelerator and even gear changing should be operated smoothly and slowly.
  • Sunglasses can help to reduce the glare of low winter sun on the snow.
  • Keep your speed down and allow more time to stop and steer.
  • It is important that you are familiar with the vehicle’s handbook in the event of a skid and what action to take, due to the active and passive safety features that are fitted to different vehicles.
  • Finally, it’s important to think about the environment that you’re driving in, especially microclimates that might appear on the road. These are areas that perhaps the sun hasn’t got to, which could stay icy when the rest of the road has thawed. Bridges are a good example. They’re normally the first to freeze and the last to thaw. So be aware of that when you’re driving in open spaces. 

What to do if you get stuck

  • If you are stuck, it is recommended that you turn your wheels from side to side to push the snow out of the way.
  • Do not try to keep moving if the wheels spin - it will only dig you in deeper.
  • Use a shovel to clear snow out of the way.  Pour cat litter, sand or gravel in front of the wheels to help get traction.
  • Shift from forward to reverse and back again.  Give a light touch on the accelerator until the vehicle gets going.
  • If you can't move your car, you can stay warm by running the engine.  However, it is vital that the exhaust pipe is not blocked by snow as highly toxic carbon monoxide gas could enter the car.
  • If there is any risk the fumes can come into the car, do not run the engine.  Even if it is safe, do not run the engine for more than 10 or 15 minutes in each hour.  If need be, open a window.
  • If help is less than 100m distance, stay in your car.  If you do leave your vehicle, be aware that it is easy to get disorientated in heavy snowfall.
  • In your car, keep moving to maintain body circulation and put on as many clothes as possible.  Avoid overexertion as cold weather puts added strain on the heart.
  • If possible, alert friend, family or colleagues to your situation and location.  If conditions do not improve consider calling your breakdown provider or the emergency services.

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