Weather can be unpredictable and turn quickly. Roads can become, treacherous with ice, snow, heavy rain and fog posing significant risks for drivers on the roads.
Stopping distances can double in the wet and increase ten-fold in ice and snow. Driving in bad weather can be lethal.
Most of us have very little experience of driving in extreme conditions, such as snow, so take some time to consider how it affects your driving. Don’t just drive as you normally would. If conditions are bad, and if it all possible, avoid driving completely.
You will find our winter driving safety tips below followed by our recommended items to keep in your car.
Avoid if Possible
If possible, you should avoid driving in snow and other treacherous conditions at all. If you have no reason to be out driving, then don’t go out driving, it’s that simple.
If heavy snow has been forecast then consider taking other modes of transport such as public transport. If you would normally drive to work, speak to your employer in advance about home-working arrangements when the weather is bad, especially if you live in a rural area prone to flooding or snow.
There are times when you may get caught out by extreme conditions, so always be prepared by taking the following steps BEFORE the cold weather strikes.
- Ensure that your vehicle is well-maintained with an up-to-date MOT, a regular service, and regular walk-round checks by you.
- Get into the habit of regularly checking the tyres to ensure that they’re in good condition and have a tread depth of at least 3mm to be safe in the wet.
- Always make sure that there is anti-freeze in your radiator and the windscreen washer bottle.
- Make sure that you keep an ice-scraper and de-icer in your vehicle at all times during the winter.
- Keep a car emergency kit in your car which contains the minimum of a torch; cloths; a blanket and warm clothes; food and drink; first-aid kit; spade; warning triangle; and high-visibility vest.
- When heading out, ensure that you always take a well-charged phone in case of emergencies.
Car batteries are more likely to die in winter, so you need to take steps to ensure that yours doesn’t. If your car battery is more than five years old or there are signs of it struggling to start the car, get it checked by your garage and replaced if needed.
Before setting off on your journey, make sure that you clear any ice, snow and condensation completely from your windscreen and all windows before setting off. You should remove any snow from the roof also as it can fall while you’re driving and obscure your vision.
Be sure to plan your route out carefully and always let somebody know where you are going, the route you are taking, and the time you expect to arrive.
If the bad weather strikes while you are already on the roads, take the following steps to minimize the dangers.
Slow down: when visibility is poor or the roads arewet or icy, it will take you longer to react to hazards and so you should reduce your speed accordingly. Take corners slowly, and reduce speed further if your view of the road ahead is obscured. Always stay well within the speed limit and look out for temporary speed limit signs. Never speed up suddenly if fog seems to have cleared. Fog can be patchy and you may suddenly re-enter it.
Maintain a safe gap behind the vehicle in front: the gap between you and the vehicle in front is your braking space in a crisis. Too close and you are going to go straight into the back of them. During wet conditions this should be a four second gap, and in ice or snow, drop right back as much as possible. Stopping distances are double in the wet, and can be 10 times greater in icy weather.
Be extra vigilant: be aware that people on foot, bicycles, motorbikes and horses are harder to spot in adverse weather. Drive slowly and cautiously so you are able to spot vulnerable road users in plenty of time and not put them in danger.
Stay in control: avoid harsh braking and acceleration, and carry out manoeuvres very slowly and with extra care.
Use lights: in gloomy weather you should keep your car lights on. Use front and rear fog lights in dense fog. Remember to switch off fog lights when visibility improves.
Snow and ice: if you get caught out while driving, follow these tips below:
- To avoid wheel spin, use the highest gear possible but make sure that you don’t let your speed creep up.
- Brake gently to avoid locking the wheels. Get into a low gear earlier than normal and allow the speed of the vehicle to fall gradually.
- Take corners as slowly as possible and steer gently and steadily to avoid skidding. Never brake if the vehicle skids, instead, ease off the accelerator and steer slightly into the direction of the skid until you gain control.
- If stuck in snow, do not spin the wheels or rev the vehicle, as this will dig the vehicle further in. Instead, put the vehicle into as high a gear as possible and slowly manoeuvre the vehicle lightly forwards and backwards to gently creep out.
- if you are stuck fast, stay in the vehicle unless help is visible within 100 yards. Do not abandon your vehicle as this can hold up rescue vehicles.
Rain and floods: follow these tips if you get caught driving in heavy rain and floods:
- Keep a good distance between your car and the vehicle in front as the rain and spray makes it difficult to see and be seen.
- Look out for steering becoming unresponsive, which can happen if water prevents the tyres from gripping. If this occurs, ease off the accelerator and gradually slow down. If possible, pull over somewhere safe until the rain stops and the water drains away.
- Never attempt to cross a flooded road if you are unsure how deep it is; only cross if you can see the road through the water. Apart from potential damage, many vehicles require only two feet of water to float.
- If driving on a flooded road, stay in first gear with the engine speed high and drive very slowly. Do not drive through floodwater if a vehicle is coming the other way. If possible, drive in the middle of the road to avoid deeper water near the kerb.
- Test brakes immediately after driving through water by driving slowly over a flat surface and pressing the brakes gently. Warn passengers first.
In high winds: take extra care passing over bridges or on open stretches of road exposed to strong winds. If your vehicle is being blown about, slow right down and take great care to maintain a steady course. Keep well back from motorcycles and high-sided vehicles as they can be particularly affected by turbulence.
In winter sun: dazzle from low winter sun can be dangerous. Keep a pair of sunglasses in the vehicle all year round (prescription if needed) and keep your windscreen clean. Wear your sunglasses in bright sunshine, especially if the sun is low or reflecting off a wet road.
Gritted roads: Highways England is responsible for keeping England’s motorways and major ‘A’ roads clear of ice and snow. Local road networks are the responsibility of local authorities. In some cases there may be a lag before roads are treated, so never assume that roads have been gritted.
Recommended Items for Your Car
Now that you are aware of how to drive safely on the roads, it only makes sense to keep the proper equipment handy so that you can keep warm, dig yourself out of the snow, and keep the engine running on the coldest of mornings before hitting the road.
Below, you will find our list of winter driving essentials that won’t take up all the available space in your trunk yet will be of great help should anything go wrong.
FlareAlert LED Beacon Road Flare
Anytime that you need to stop your vehicle during a winter storm, it is important that other drivers are made aware. This is where the FlareAlert LED Beacon road flares can be incredibly handy. These are compact, durable, safe, water resistant, and they’re crush resistant up to 20,000 pounds. Their magnetic base allows them to stick right onto your vehicle for enhanced visibility in any emergency situation. No fire, no fumes, no fuss!
The batteries will give the FlareAlert around 20 hours before a battery change is needed.
True Temper Snow Brush/Scraper
Snow gets everywhere and underneath that white fluffy powder, it is often ice. To combat this, a good quality snow brush and ice scraper can be a lifesaver. The True Temper snow brush/scraper has a wrap-around brush for clearing mirrors and wiper wells. With an eva foam complete head, lightweight aluminum handle for a better grip, and a sturdy scraper made of polycarbonate. If you want a snow scraper that won’t damage your car, the True Temper is what you need.
Overmont Snow Shovel
If your car becomes stuck in the snow, you are going to need something that will allow you to dig your way out. Preferably something lightweight and that won’t take up too much room in your car.
The Overmont snow shovel is both of those things being ultra-light and it can be broken down into three parts for easy storage.
NiceEShop First Aid Kit
With the arrival of winter comes the increased chance of accidents. It only makes sense that a proper first aid kit is accessible and stocked at all times when venturing out in less than ideal weather. The NiceEShop first aid kit includes 17 kinds of basic & essential first aid kit emergency components. It is nice and compact and comes in a durable and waterproof EVA bag.
Gerber Dime Mini Multi-Tool
A good multi-tool is an essential addition and they don’t have to be expensive. The Gerber Dime Mini is affordable but built to last.
The Dime is a mini multi-tool with an impressive list of features, ensuring you are ready for anything. It can easily fit on your keychain yet has 12 useful tools.
- Spring loaded needle nose pliers
- Standard Pliers
- Wire Cutter
- Bottle Opener
- Fine Edge Knife
- Retail Package Opener
- Medium flat head driver
- Coarse and fine files
- Philips driver
- Lanyard Ring
More importantly, the Gerber Dime Mini comes with the famous Gerber lifetime warranty.
With a form factor that is 40 percent smaller than its predecessor, the Cobra Jumpack 8000 model is the perfect companion for travel, outdoor, safety and multi-purpose use. The sleek and attractive new model now offers added built-in protection circuitry including short circuit protection, reverse charge, over-charge and reverse polarity protection. The unit holds approximately 85 to 90 percent of its charge for up to eight months.
With the nights drawing in earlier than usual, if you head out on the roads, you are going to need a flashlight. There are many on the market that have a whole variety of different functions so shop around and find what’s best for you. The Klarus XT11X is one of the most powerful around with features including:
- CREE XHP70.2 P2 LED with max output up to 3200 lumens, max beam distance 283 meters, with rechargeable battery, far exceeds the competition.
- Tactical setting and outdoor setting provides two programmable settings to choose from, In the tactical setting you have a One Touch Strobe, One Touch Turbo, In the outdoor setting you have One Touch Low and One Touch Turbo and SOS. Switch Lock-out Function.
- Output Modes – equipped with a CREE XP-L HI V3 LED, the XT11X delivers up to 3200 lumens and has a maximum beam distance of 283 meters. It has six total outputs including four brightness levels, a strobe mode and a SOS mode.
- Patented tail cap dual-switch and side switch design, adaptable for different scenarios, non-visual tactile one-handed operation in the dark with intuitive control. Unique lock-out mode of both side and tail switch prevents accidental operations;
- Handy USB Charging; Intelligent Thermal Protection System (ITS); Intelligent Battery Identification System (IBIS); Intelligent Charging System (ICS), real-time monitoring of charging status to prevent overcharging.
A good set of tire chains is essential for anybody hitting the roads during the winter months, you’re going to need them. Go for an easily installed set of chains.
All Weather Blanket
You are also going to need a good-quality all weather blanket in your car. If you become stranded on the roads and nobody else is around, the key here in this situation is to keep warm. Seems obvious we know but you’d be surprised how many people don’t keep a roll-up wool blanket in their car just in case. Many available now have a reflective side that can also be used for signalling and large enough to create a shelter.