Driving in snow and ice: expert tips for slippery conditions, including how much stopping distances increase

From chosing the right gear to coping with a skid, these simple steps will give you confidence in even the trickiest road conditions

As another cold snap hits the UK and forecasters warn of snow and ice in some regions, drivers are being urged to make sure they and their cars are prepared for difficult road conditions.

In some regions police have advised against any non-essential driving after hundreds of weather-related collisions and accidents. Sub-zero temperatures are expected to remain across most of the country until the end of the week, leading to slippery conditions, especially on more minor roads.

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Recently a study by tyre maker Goodyear found that 41% of drivers would be concerned about icy road conditions or would choose not to drive at all on icy roads, so we spoke to its experts to get advice simple steps can help motorists feel more comfortable and confident in trickier conditions.

Jaap Van Wessum from Goodyear Tyres UK emphasises: “The key is to remain calm and cautious. Allow plenty of time for journeys and keep your manoeuvres smooth.” To help drivers feel safer and more confident this winter, whatever the conditions, Jaap has the following advice:

Get in gear

To increase smoothness and minimise the risk of losing grip in snow and ice, Jaap recommendeds pulling away in second gear and gently easing your foot off the clutch to avoid wheel spin. Try to move to a higher gear as early as possible and then aim to maintain a constant speed– this offers more grip when you’re driving on icy roads. Remember, gear changes should always be done carefully, keep them smooth and slow.

Cruise control is a big no

You should never use cruise control on any slippery surface– this increases the chances of sliding and it’s ultimately better to be in complete control of your vehicle.

It’s important to leave a safe gap between yourself and other vehicles in slippery conditions

Keep your distance

When driving on ice, stopping distances can be ten times longer than in good conditions, so it’s important to maintain a larger distance between you and other vehicles – usually around 10 car lengths.

Stop the skid

In icy conditions, skidding is a risk – if you do skid, don’t panic but do come off the throttle and try to avoid the impulse to brake hard. Whether you should steer with or into the skid depends on the type of skid and what sort of electronic aids your car has to help you straighten up and regain control. You can read more about what to do in the event of a skid here.

Choose the right tyres

By law, you’re required to have at least 1.6mm minimum tyre tread depth but Jaap recommends between 4mm and 8mm for the winter. Whatever you do, don’t let air out of your tyres for more grip – this is unsafe, and it doesn’t work. Instead, Jaap suggests considering winter or all-season tyres, which are made of special rubber offering better grip in cold and wet conditions.

Look after your wipers

Don’t leave your windscreen wipers on their auto function when parked if there’s a risk of frost. If they freeze to the screen, they could get damaged when you turn the ignition on. If your wipers are worn or damaged in any way, make sure to replace them.

Be prepared with an emergency kit

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It’s worth keeping an essentials kit in your car in case of an emergency – think an ice scraper, de-icer, a torch (and batteries) and a first aid kit. You could also create a breakdown kit including these items plus a blanket, portable phone charger (make sure it’s fully charged), water and non-perishable snacks in case you find yourself waiting around for a recovery vehicle.

Clear your windows

Rule 229 of the Highway Code states that you must be able to see clearly through all windows and mirrors in your vehicle, so make sure to defrost and demist your car entirely before driving. Leave plenty of time before you set off, and don’t set off until you have full visibility.

Use your lights

Visibility is vital, and it’s not just your windows that you need to worry about. Make sure your lights are all working and be ready to use your headlights during the day if visibility is reduced – not only does it improve your own ability to see the road, but it also helps other road users see you. To check your headlights, tail lights and fog lights just switch them on, then walk around the car and check they’re working and bright. To check brake lights, you can use reflections or ask a friend to check them for you.

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