Driving in snow: How to prepare yourself and your car for cold conditions and how to stay safe on the road

How to ensure you and your car are ready for winter and how to cope with snow on the roads

Tuesday, 7th December 2021, 9:56 am

Close on the heels of Storm Arwen, Storm Barra is set to bring further harsh weather to large parts of the country.

Strong winds and heavy snow are forecast to batter Northern Ireland, North-West England, parts of southern Scotland and the Highlands.

As with Storm Arwen, that is likely to bring disruption on the roads as snow, ice and rain make conditions more difficult and increase the chances of being caught up in an accident or traffic jam.

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To help you handle the wintry weather here are our tips on being prepared for driving in snow and what to do should you start to lose control.

Prepare your car

Before setting off in bad weather you should make sure your car is in the best possible condition.

Make sure all your lights work, your tyres are properly inflated and have plenty of tread and you’ve topped up your screenwash with a decent fluid that will work at sub-zero temperatures.

If your car is covered with snow or ice be sure to clear all of it off before driving away. Don’t be tempted just to clear a patch on the windscreen. Not only is this illegal but it will leave you with restricted visibility, which isn’t good for your safety or that of other road users.

Pack an emergency kit

Snow, ice and general bad weather increase the likelihood of being caught in a traffic jam or accident so it’s important to be prepared for a long wait in your car.

Leave a bag with a few essentials in your car at all times. Important items include a warm coat, sturdy footwear, a high-visibility jacket and a blanket. You should also pack a torch, snacks and drinks in case you are faced with a long delay. A foldable shovel and even old carpet off-cuts can come in handy should you become stuck in snow or on a slippery surface.

Plan your journey

If there’s heavy snow or rain it’s best to avoid travelling if you can. However, if you need to venture out, plan your journey carefully and expect it to take longer than usual.

Check travel reports regularly for information on delays or road closures and try to avoid smaller, lesser used roads as these are less likely to be gritted or cleared of snow than the major routes.

You should also make sure your car has plenty of fuel/charge and ensure your mobile phone is charged as well, in case you get stuck.

Driving in snow

Once you’re on the road it’s essential to take your time and maintain control.

Remember that braking distances can be up to 10 times longer than in dry conditions and that sudden inputs can cause you to lose control in slippery conditions.

Keep your speed down and leave a bigger gap to other vehicles. Watch what other cars are doing and give them plenty of space so you don’t need to slow down or steer unnecessarily.

Try to accelerate, brake and steer gently and keep inputs to a minimum. The less you change gear, brake or stop and the more time you have to manoeuvre the less likely you are to get stuck or have an accident.

Look ahead for any potentially difficult surfaces such as puddles, patches of ice or snow drifts and give yourself plenty of time to manoeuvre around these.

Handling a skid

Even if you are being cautious there’s always a chance a patch of black ice or other treacherous surface could catch you out and send your car out of control.

If you do feel your car slipping, try to stay calm and take your foot off the accelerator and press the clutch, but don’t hit the brake as this could make the skid worse.

In modern cars with stability control systems you should hold your steering position and allow the car’s electronics to bring it back under control.

In older cars without such systems you may need to steer into the skid if the rear wheels are sliding. If the front wheels are sliding, steering very slightly in the opposite direction before returning to the correct steering line can sometimes help them find additional grip.