Winter driving guide & tips
Winter driving isn't easy. Not only do the longer nights lead to reduced visibility on our roads, but bad weather conditions — such as ice, snow, wind and rain — make driving far more dangerous.
Wintry weather can change quickly; one minute you could be driving through a hail storm, the next you could be battling gale force winds. That's why it's important to prepare for all eventualities before you set off.
Here at Hastings Direct, we've put together a handy guide full of tips to help you prepare for winter driving.
Preparing your car
Wet, icy conditions are tough for your car. From checking the battery and tyres to topping up the antifreeze and replacing wiper blades, there are many things you can do to make sure your car's ready for the chilly months ahead. Read our guide on preparing your car for winter for some top tips.
Before you set off
Given the weather could change at the drop of a hat, it's important to tune in to local radio stations and travel reports and make sure you have a final check of the forecast just before you set off.
If conditions are really bad, you need to decide whether the journey's necessary, or if it can be postponed to when the weather's improved. If your trip's absolutely essential and the conditions are poor, you should:
- Plan your route before you leave, plus an alternative in case the route becomes blocked.
- Make sure your car has more than enough fuel to last the duration of your journey, bearing in mind alternative routes might require you to drive more miles.
- Fully charge your phone before you leave, just in case you have to phone for assistance or let someone know you're going to be late.
- Tell someone where you're going and what time you expect to arrive.
- Pack an emergency kit, which should include: a blanket, warm clothes, food and water, shovel, torch, de-icer, window scraper, and a high-vis vest and warning triangle.
Winter weather conditions will require you to drive slower and more cautiously, meaning journeys are likely to take longer than they normally would. So, make sure you factor in this extra time when planning trips.
Did you know?
- The stopping distance when driving in icy conditions is 10 times as long.
- The stopping distance in wet conditions is more than double.
- For every 1mph you reduce your speed, your crash rate falls by 5%.
- Only around 40% of UK roads are gritted when icy.
On the road
Driving in snow
- When planning your route, stick to main roads as much as possible, as there's a good chance they'll be gritted and cleared of snow.
- Take things nice and slowly: accelerate gently using low revs, and shift to a higher gear as soon as possible. Pulling away in second gear will improve traction and help to limit wheel spin.
- Accelerating, braking and steering should be carried out in a smooth and controlled manner.
- Remember, speed limits aren't targets, so only drive at a speed where you feel comfortable and in control.
- When braking, shift to a lower gear to let the speed drop, and then gently apply the brakes.
- Leave plenty of space between you and the car in front — you could need up to ten times the standard distance for braking.
- If you start to skid, steer gently into it (so, if your car's sliding left, steer to the left). Keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times and don't slam your foot on the brake.
- If you get stuck in the snow, don't rev your car in one direction to escape as this will probably have the opposite effect. Instead, slowly rock the car forwards and backwards in a high gear to carve a path in the snow. If you're unsuccessful, you might need to use the shovel in your emergency kit, or ask a passer by to help.
Driving on ice
- Ice is one of the most dangerous conditions to drive on, especially black ice which is transparent and virtually impossible to detect.
- Similar to driving on snow, every manoeuvre should be carried out in a gentle, controlled manner, avoiding sharp steering and sudden acceleration or braking.
- To brake when driving on ice, shift to a lower gear early on to allow the speed to fall, and then gently apply the brakes.
- Icy roads can increase your stopping distance by up to ten times, so leave lots of space between you and the car in front.
- If the roads look wet but you're hearing no sound from your tyres, there's a good chance you're driving over ice. Don't panic and brake suddenly or you'll skid.
- If your car does start to skid, depress the clutch and turn into the direction of the skid, avoiding pressing the brakes.
Stopping distances in fine weather:
- 20mph = the length of three cars (12 metres)
- 30mph = the length of six cars (23 metres)
- 40mph = the length of nine cars (36 metres)
- 50mph = the length of 13 cars (53 metres)
- 60mph = the length of 18 cars (73 metres)
- 70mph = the length of 24 cars (96 metres)
Driving in wind
- When planning your route, choose sheltered roads with less exposure to winds if you can.
- High winds could lead to bridge closures, so make sure you check travel updates before setting off.
- Hold on tight when driving in exposed areas, as you could be hit by strong, unexpected gusts of wind.
- Be extremely cautious when overtaking articulated lorries and other high-sided vehicles, as they are easily blown about by the wind.
Driving in heavy rain
- If visibility's reduced in heavy rain, use your dipped headlights so other drivers can easily see you. Fog lights should only be used when visibility's really poor, otherwise they can dazzle other drivers.
- Double the average gap between you and the car in front, as wet roads increase stopping distances.
- If steering becomes light as you drive through standing water, there's a chance you could be aquaplaning. Ease off the accelerator gently to slow down and regain control of the car.
- Avoid driving in large puddles on the side of the road as you don't know what's under the water — the puddle could be disguising an open drain cover, for instance.
- Don't drive through flooded areas if you don't know how deep it is.
- If you've decided flood water's safe to drive through, make sure you have a clear route so you don't have to stop, and drive steadily to avoid creating a bow wave. Select a low gear so revs are higher, otherwise water could get into the exhaust and damage the catalytic converter. Test your brakes as soon as you're clear of the water.
- If you break down in heavy rain, don't open the bonnet or it'll soak the electrics and make it harder to start.