Winter driving tips for snow and icy road conditions

Cars driving in snowy conditions

Driving in winter conditions can be a scary, nerve wracking experience – especially for new drivers or those who have been involved in a road traffic accident before.

It is a simple fact that driving in icy or snowy conditions adds an element of risk to your journey. 

So what can you do to keep yourself and others safe?

Top tips for driving in snow and icy road conditions

1. Don’t drive if you don’t have to

When winter conditions turn to an amber warning, Traffic Scotland recommends that if you don’t need to drive, then don’t do it.

Unless the journey is essential, then don’t take the risk as road conditions can be treacherous.

2. Check local roads and plan your route

In the era of rapidly developing technology, we tend to rely on GPS devices to reach our destination.

However, during winter such devices might prove unreliable as they often do not account for road obstructions or dramatic changes to weather conditions.

If you need to drive in winter conditions, check Traffic Scotland for up to date information of road closures and warnings. Plan your route and keep your radio on for travel advice whilst travelling.

3. Car checks before setting off

It is important that your car is ready for winter.

Before you set off, make sure all your windows and lights are clear of obstruction, number plates are visible, mirrors are clear, fluids are all topped up and your tyres are properly inflated.

You can find more information on the Met Office to prepare your vehicle for winter.

4. Emergency kit

Always set off prepared for the possibility that you may get stuck as a result of conditions. Many people will remember the 2010 snow storm which caused travel chaos with drivers unexpectedly stranded on the motorway – with no supplies like a blanket, food or water.

Other useful things to store in your car in case of an emergency include portable phone charger, tyre pump, boots or wellies, torch, shovel and first aid box.

5. Drive slowly and calmly

Set off in second gear – or if your car has winter mode, use this. If you’re not sure, check the vehicle’s handbook to find out if your car has this feature.

It is important to drive slowly and leave more space from the car in front. This means that if your car slides, or you need to brake, you have more room to brake safely. Recommended gap is 10 times the normal braking distance.

Icy roads increase the chance of your vehicle skidding or even aquaplaning if a layer of water builds between the wheels of your vehicle.

Stopping distances are doubled in wet conditions and multiplied by 10 in show and icy conditions. 

6. Test your brakes on snow or ice covered roads

The Official Highway Code (“the Code”) advises to check the grip on the road surface when there is snow or ice by picking a safe spot to brake gently.

If the steering feels unresponsive, this may mean there is ice on the road and your car is losing its grip. Remember that when travelling on ice, tyres make almost no noise.

7. Be vigilant at sharp bends and corners

Be exceptionally vigilant when approaching sharp bends and corners as loss of control is likely even on dry roads.

The Code recommends braking progressively on the straight before you reach a bend. Having slowed down, you should then steer smoothly round the bend and avoid sudden actions at all times. Brake gently to avoid sliding on ice and locking your wheels.

Bear in mind that another road user might be using the bend in the other lane.

Remember to change into a higher gear as quickly as possible, test your brakes when it is safe to do so to check how well the car is gripping the road.

Lastly, stay calm. The less anxious you are, the less likely it is that you will make a sudden error or impulse decision.

8. Don’t overtake if possible

The Code puts particular emphasis on taking extra care when overtaking vehicles spreading salt or other de-icer.

You should also watch out for snowploughs which may throw out snow on either side.

Do not overtake them unless the lane you intend to use has been cleared.

Frequently asked questions for driving in snow or ice

What should you do if your car begins to slide?

Don’t panic! Steer gently into it, keep your hands on the steering wheel and don’t press on the brakes harshly – instead, remove your foot from the accelerator and let the car slow down. So, if the car is veering to the right, steer to the right and remember to stay calm.

What should you do if you begin to lose control of your car at a bend?

Don’t brake, but take your foot of the accelerator and steer your tyres towards where you want to go.

What should you do if approaching a hill?

When going up a hill, give plenty of space to vehicles in front so you can drive the same speed without changing gear or braking.

When travelling down a hill, avoid braking unless required and again, make sure you give plenty of room between you and vehicles in front.

What lights should you use?

For heavy snow, use dipped headlights and if visibility drops below 100m, use your fog lights.

What should you do if you get stuck in snow?

It is recommended that you move the vehicle slowly backwards and forwards in the highest gear to get out.

If that fails, get your shovel and dig – or ask someone for a push.

Handy tip

If the road hasn’t been gritted, be cautious of driving in wheel tracks as compressed snow is more likely to be icy than fresh snow.

Please stay safe!

At Digby Brown, we see first-hand the devastating effects of car accidents in Scotland. Some of which occurred due to wintery conditions but could have been prevented.

We encourage everyone to be vigilant on the roads, drive carefully and stay safe this winter.