The Met Office has issued a series of weather warnings for snow and ice across much of the UK.
After several weeks of mild weather, forecasters have warned that Arctic winds are bringing unusually low temperatures and with them the threat of travel disruption. Yellow warnings for snow and ice are in place, with predictions that they could be extended.
Some parts of Scotland are forecast to experience temperatures as low as -15C but snow is expected to fall across large parts of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, creating difficult conditions for drivers.
Road conditions are expected to be slippery and on higher ground there is the risk of roads being blocked by snow, with drivers urged to use caution and be properly prepared for the weather. That includes ensuring their car is equipped to deal with the conditions and that they have everything they need to stay safe if they are delayed or stuck.
To help you handle the wintry weather here are our tips on being prepared for driving in snow and what to do should you start to lose control.
Prepare your car
Before setting off in bad weather you should make sure your car is in the best possible condition.
Make sure all your lights work, your tyres are properly inflated and have plenty of tread and you’ve topped up your screenwash with a decent fluid that will work at sub-zero temperatures.
If your car is covered with snow or ice be sure to clear all of it off before driving away. Don’t be tempted just to clear a patch on the windscreen. Not only is this illegal but it will leave you with restricted visibility, which isn’t good for your safety or that of other road users.
Pack an emergency kit
Snow, ice and general bad weather increase the likelihood of being caught in a traffic jam or accident so it’s important to be prepared for a long wait in your car.
Leave a bag with a few essentials in your car at all times. Important items include a warm coat, sturdy footwear, a high-visibility jacket and a blanket. You should also pack a torch, phone charger, snacks and drinks in case you are faced with a long delay. A foldable shovel and even old carpet off-cuts can come in handy should you become stuck in snow or on a slippery surface, and it’s wise to carry a warning triangle and tow rope in case you break down or get stuck.
Plan your journey
If there’s heavy snow or rain it’s best to avoid travelling if you can. However, if you need to venture out, plan your journey carefully and expect it to take longer than usual.
Check travel reports regularly for information on delays or road closures and try to avoid smaller, lesser used roads as these are less likely to be gritted or cleared of snow than the major routes.
You should also make sure your car has plenty of fuel/charge and ensure your mobile phone is charged as well, in case you get stuck.
Driving in snow
Once you’re on the road it’s essential to take your time and maintain control. Remember that braking distances can be up to 10 times longer than in dry conditions and that sudden inputs can cause you to lose control in slippery conditions.
Keep your speed down and leave a bigger gap to other vehicles. Watch what other cars are doing and give them plenty of space so you don’t need to slow down or steer unnecessarily.
Try to accelerate, brake and steer gently and keep inputs to a minimum. The less you change gear, brake or stop and the more time you have to manoeuvre the less likely you are to get stuck or have an accident.
Look ahead for any potentially difficult surfaces such as puddles, patches of ice or snow drifts and give yourself plenty of time to manoeuvre around these.
Handling a skid
Even if you are being cautious there’s always a chance a patch of black ice or other treacherous surface could catch you out and send your car out of control.
If you do feel your car slipping, try to stay calm and take your foot off the accelerator and press the clutch, but don’t hit the brake as this could make the skid worse.
In modern cars with stability control systems you should hold your steering position and allow the car’s electronics to bring it back under control.
In older cars without such systems you may need to steer into the skid if the rear wheels are sliding. If the front wheels are sliding, steering very slightly in the opposite direction before returning to the correct steering line can sometimes help them find additional grip.
For more details on dealing with skids and how to avoid them, see our guide here.