Winter Road Safety
Driving safely when there’s snow or ice
Driving in severe winter weather poses many challenges. Cars can get stuck in snowy conditions even on familiar roads, forcing the driver and passengers to spend the night on the roadside.
During the winter months, we need to adapt the way we drive and be prepared for journeys that may take us through very varied weather, road and traffic conditions.
When we have prolonged periods of snow, statistics show a fall in the overall number of road casualties because fewer people take to the roads. Of course, accidents still occur and weather conditions can often play a part. In 2014, figures from the Department for Transport (DfT) show that 29 people were killed, 251 were seriously injured and 2,274 were slightly injured in reported road accidents on Great Britain's roads when there was snow or ice on the road surface.
Here is some advice on how to prepare your vehicle for winter driving if you have to make a journey and what to do should you be caught out in bad weather.
Before you leave
Prepare your vehicle
Servicing - Make sure your vehicle is serviced prior to winter.
Tyres – Tyre maintenance is vital. Ensure your tyres are inflated correctly and that you have a minimum of 3mm of tread on your tyres to cope with wet and slippery conditions. Check both the tyre pressure and tread every month.
Battery - In winter, the battery will run down quicker than in warmer weather. Make sure that your car battery is not faulty and if you're in any doubt get it checked. Make sure you do a regular long journey to top it up or trickle-charge the battery.
Engine – Modern engines are more robust than older ones. All the same, depress the clutch when starting as this will reduce drag on the engine when starting, and preserve the battery.
Screenwash – Make sure to keep your washer bottle topped up and use a proper additive with the right concentration to prevent freezing.
Windows - Clear all snow and ice from your windscreen, mirrors and lights before driving. Do not use water to de-ice windscreens. Hot water can crack the glass, and the water will only freeze again on the screen or on the ground where you are standing. Keep your windows clear of condensation and make sure your heaters are blowing hot air.
Fuel - Keep your tank topped up - that way if you are caught out, you'll have enough fuel to make it home or run the engine to keep warm. However, it's essential to keep snow from blocking the exhaust as noxious fumes can leak into the vehicle.
Locks - A squirt of WD-40 will prevent your door locks freezing up.
Plan your journey
If possible, avoid driving if weather conditions are severe, however, if you must drive plan your route, regular breaks and always take an emergency snow kit.
Plan your journey around busier roads as they are more likely to have been gritted. Avoid using shortcuts on minor roads - they are less likely to be cleared or treated with salt, especially country lanes.
Make sure you have the most up to date information on road conditions and weather forecasts. This information should help you decide whether you should make a journey and how it can be undertaken. Make sure to listen to local radio weather and traffic reports.
You can get regular traffic and weather updates via the following links:
Wales: www.traffic-wales.com (see also this handy winter driving advice fact sheet from Traffic Wales)
Northern Ireland: www.trafficwatchni.com/home
Pack an Emergency Snow Kit
You never know when you could find yourself in a bad weather emergency, make sure you’re not caught unprepared. Anyone can assemble an Emergency Snow Kit using the following items:
- Jump leads
- Snow shovel
- Ice scraper
- First aid kit
- Warm clothes – coat, hat, gloves etc.
- Blanket – to keep you warm if you get stuck for a length time or overnight
- Hard wearing footwear
- Food and water
- Rock salt, sand or as an alternative, cat litter or some old pieces of carpet – this can be used to put under your tyres when stuck
- Mobile phone – always carry a fully charged mobile
Once your kit is ready make sure that it is accessible inside your car, ensuring you can always reach it even if the boot or doors are frozen shut.
It is against the law to use your mobile phone whilst driving. When roads are hazardous it's more important than ever to ensure you don't get distracted by your phone at the wheel.
Driving in ice and snow
Whenever we are driving it is important that we pay attention, take care and ensure that we are not distracted. Winter weather does however bring with it increased risks and therefore that it is important that we always:
- Drive with caution and care even on treated roads.
- Watch out for snowploughs which may throw out snow on either side
- Follow the Highway Code and be prepared for the road conditions to change over relatively short distances.
- On motorways stay in the clearest lane where possible, away from slush and ice. Keep within the clear tyre tracks if you can.
- Stay in a higher gear for better control, and if it is slippery, in a manual car move off in a higher gear, rather than just using first.
- On a downhill slope get your speed low before you start the descent, and do not let it build up - it is much easier to keep it low than to try to slow down once things get slippery.
- In falling snow use dipped headlights or fog lights to make yourself visible to others (especially pedestrians) - but as conditions improve make sure your fog lights are only on if necessary as they can dazzle other drivers.
- If you are following another vehicle at night, using their lights to see ahead can cause you to drive dangerously close - keep well back from other traffic.
- Don’t risk driving through deep floodwater.
- Be careful when getting in and out of vehicles. Use the vehicle as support when getting in and out.
The Institute of Advanced Motorists also offers this practical advice to ensure safety whilst driving in wintery conditions:
- When driving in snow, get your speed right - not too fast so that you risk losing control, but not so slow that you risk losing momentum when you need it - and brake, steer and accelerate as smoothly as possible.
- Start gently from stationary, avoiding high revs. If you get yourself into a skid the main thing to remember is to take your foot off the pedals and steer.
- Only use the brake if you cannot steer out of trouble.
- Double or even triple your normal stopping distance from the vehicle in front. Drive so that you do not rely on your brakes to be able to stop - on an icy surface they simply may not do that for you!
- If your vehicle has ABS in very slippery conditions it will not give you the same control it would in others. Do not rely on it.
- Driving in fog
- Winter fog can be just as hazardous as snow and ice, reducing visibility and the time frame in which a driver has to react to changes in traffic speed. Here are some handy tips to bear in mind when driving in fog:
- Do not use front or rear fog lights unless visibility is seriously reduced - they dazzle other road users and can obscure your brake lights (use when visibility is less than 100m)
- Be able to stop within the distance you can see clearly especially on motorways and dual carriageways
- Use your windscreen wipers and demisters
- Beware of other drivers not using headlights
- What to do if you get stuck in the snow?
Anyone can be caught out by changing weather conditions. While it can be dangerous there are ways to avoid the worst effects of spending hours in a cold car, miles from anywhere:
Here’s what to do should the worst happen:
- Use your Emergency Snow Kit. This should include everything you need to stay safe, contact help and potentially get you on the road again.
- If you are trapped in your car, you can stay warm by running the engine. However, it is vital that the exhaust pipe is not blocked by snow. If the engine fumes cannot escape, you could be overwhelmed by carbon monoxide gas, which is highly toxic. 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.
- Stay in or close to your car. In heavy snow, it is easy to get disorientated and lost or separated from your vehicle. If necessary you can always hang a piece of brightly coloured cloth on your car to let others know you are there.
Here at Reece Safety we support the use of salt and grit on road surfaces as part of the local authority’s proactive winter maintenance plans. As a key supplier of winter products, we are able to supply large volumes of brown and white rock salt quickly, take a look at our large volume ordering options here.