Winter Driving exposes you to increased risks of losing control of your vehicle, being involved in a collision due to someone else losing control of their vehicle and being trapped in, or abandoning your vehicle putting you in harsh weather conditions without shelter or warmth. A unique period in which to drive that may last days or weeks for many drivers, so the opportunity to gain experience and confidence is short. It is perhaps the one time a seasoned driver is concerned at losing control of the vehicle and will they react to it correctly. The advice we offer is focused on preventing the loss of control. This centres on pre-journey preparation and modified driving behaviour.
Preparation for your journey is of paramount importance. If you haven’t already prepared your vehicle for winter conditions, then do it now. It’s a small effort that at worst will improve your journey, and at best may save your life. Download our Vehicle preparation guidance .
- Clear your windows and mirrors of ice and/or snow before you set out. Carry a screen scraper and de-icer, and where possible run your vehicle engine to benefit from the heating system, but be careful not to put your car at risk of theft.
- Drivers should carry an ice scraper and de-icer as part of an “emergency kit”.
Do NOT use hot water on the windscreen as it can crack the glass.
Do NOT be tempted to drive off with a pin hole of clear glass to peer through; your vehicle is not equipped with sonar, which makes vision all the more important.
- Remove ALL snow from your vehicle before commencing your journey. Snow left on the roof will become loose and can drop onto the windscreen during braking, thereby causing sudden and severe restriction to your vision. It can also fall off during your drive and cause injury to pedestrians or a reflex action by another driver.
- Check tyres, including spare wheel, to ensure minimum tread depth of 1.6mm and correct tyre pressure.
- Remember it takes longer to stop in icy conditions than on a dry road. Drive slowly and allow extra room between your vehicle and the vehicle in front.
- Use the highest gear possible (3-4) to avoid wheel spin.
- Select a low gear (1-2) when travelling downhill, especially if driving through bends.
- If driving an automatic, familiarise yourself with the Manual Override function. This will allow you to manually select an appropriate gear so as to avoid braking where that might lead to skidding.
- Manoeuvre gently, avoid harsh braking and acceleration.
- To brake on ice or snow without locking your wheels, get into a low gear earlier than normal, using the clutch smoothly and allow your speed to fall and use the brake pedal gently. By better observation and concentration of the road ahead, and to your rear, you will anticipate and act with time on your side to prevent harsh braking. In some cases you may avoid braking and keep your vehicle moving in your control.
- Remember that heavy snowfall and rain reduce visibility. Use dipped headlights and decrease speed smoothly
- Watch out for black ice and freezing fog, especially in sheltered/shaded areas where micro climates can exist that contrast sharply with general conditions. These can be found on roads under trees, adjacent to high walls or hills, in valleys or dips and close to rivers and lakes.
- One of the features of travelling on Black Ice is a sudden reduction in tyre noise. You won’t notice this if the radio is too loud.
A modern vehicle may be fitted with one or more of the following safety devices. Check your vehicle specification and make yourself familiar with the safety devices in regard of what they do and how to use them where applicable.
ABS – Anti Lock Braking System
EBD – Electronic Brakeforce Distribution
TCS – Traction Control System
EBA – Electronic Brake Assist
ESP - Electronic Stability Programme
While all of these systems are a great safety aid to your driving, they are not a substitute for good driver judgement. Although our advice is aimed at preventing loss of control, we should also plan for the worst.
In the event of a skid, this is what you should do: -
- Identify the cause – It is either, too much Braking, too much Steering, too much Acceleration or a combination of one or all of these.
- Remove the cause – GENTLY and SMOOTHLY
- If your car has ABS it will NOT skid under braking. If ABS is activated, KEEP your foot on the brake and STEER around that what caused you to brake.
- If you car does not have ABS and starts to skid on the brakes, PUMP the brake pedal very fast (Cadence Braking) and STEER around that what caused you to brake.
- DO NOT fix your sight on an impending collision; you will surely hit it if you do. LOOK FOR AN ESCAPE ROUTE. Constantly looking for escape routes in all driving conditions is an essential component of defensive driving and when practised will become instinctive.
- If your vehicle skids and slews sideways -Turn the steering wheel in the same direction as the skid and ease off the accelerator at the same time. So if the back of your vehicle is slewing to the left, steer left to bring it in line again.
- Avoid over correction with too much steering or you will create a swing in the opposite direction.
- Be ready for a secondary skid and repeat corrective actions as before.
Greater levels of observation, anticipation and concentration are required when driving in icy conditions, and when combined with the advice given here, will increase your safety and that of other road users in your vicinity.
The ArriveSafe training courses, Hazard Perception and Avoiding Rear End Collisions, offer best practice guidance that would also help drivers to cope with winter road conditions.