Winter Driving Advice: Here's how to stay safe on the roads in ice and snow

A few simple tips can help you stay safe when driving in the cold winter months.
Driving in wintery conditions can be a challenge.Driving in wintery conditions can be a challenge.
Driving in wintery conditions can be a challenge.

With the return of sub-zero temperatures and snow expected this week, motorists need to be prepared for driving in these wintery conditions.  

Icy road surfaces and bad weather can make trips in the car tricky for even the most experienced drivers.

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With this in mind, Tim Rodie, resident driving expert at Motorpoint has shared five pieces of advice for anyone driving over the next few months. 

Here's what he had to say.  

Leave time to fully defrost your car   

We’ve all been in a rush to leave the house in the morning but failing to fully defrost your car could put you and your passengers at risk.   

It can be really frustrating having to wait for your windows to clear – particularly if you are in a rush to leave – but choosing to set off if your view out of the windscreen is covered with frost or snow can result in a fine or even points on your licence.

While there are loads of hacks online when it comes to defrosting your windscreen, you are best just brushing away loose snow and relying on your car’s heater to melt any ice that’s built up overnight. Turning your air conditioning on if your car has it is an easy way to speed this process up. Once completely defrosted, simply use a cloth to wipe away any condensation on your windows, lights and mirrors and then you are good to go.   

It might take a little longer than other methods, but you won’t risk scratching or cracking your windscreen. Remember, don’t leave your car unattended when your engine is on.

Pay special attention to the state of your tyres  

You need to be mindful of the state of your tyres all year round, but it’s even more important when temperatures drop unexpectedly.  

You want to be sure that your tyres have good traction and can grip the road – even after it has snowed. This means checking how much tread is left on your tyres and that they are inflated to the correct pressure. 

Legally, all cars are required to have a minimum of 1.6mm thread across the central 75% of any tyre surface. When driving conditions are hazardous, it is essential that all motorists check their tyre tread before they make a trip.

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The easiest way to check your tyre tread is to take a 20p piece and insert it into the grooves on each of your tyres - if you can’t see the outer band on the coin then you’re above the legal limit and are safe to drive.  

For anybody who might need to drive before roads have been gritted or do most of their driving in a rural area, it’s worth considering a set of winter tyres – especially when the temperature drops below 7C. They have grippier tread and a rubber blend that works better in the cold, making them the safest choice for driving.

Know what features your car has that can help  

There’s a good chance your car will have loads of features that can help when it comes to driving in icy conditions, but if you don’t know how or when to use them, you could be missing out.  

Four-wheel drive can be a real benefit when the roads are slippery, as the system drives all four wheels to maximise traction – meaning you have more control. While winter tyres are great, if you’re used to four-wheel drive the chances are you wouldn’t want to be without it when it snows. 

Beyond this, there are loads of features that make driving easier during the winter months. For example, if your car has a heated windscreen, you’ll find it’s much quicker to defrost your car and being able to rely on automatic lights and wipers means you have one less thing to worry about.  

Check your manual to see if your vehicle has a setting for winter driving. This will adjust the traction and stability control to help them work better on slippery road surfaces – keeping you safer on the move.

Adapt how you drive  

Making some simple changes to how you drive during the colder months can go a long way to help keep you and other road users safe.   

It can take up to 10 times longer for your car to come to a complete stop if roads are icy, making it much harder to gauge how much space you’ll need when braking. It is best to err on the side of caution, leaving plenty of room between yourself and other vehicles so you have more time to react and stop in an emergency. 

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If road conditions are particularly bad or you’re worried about ice, you might want to consider pulling away in second gear to reduce the chance of your wheels spinning. But, overall, the best thing you can do when it comes to driving in snowy or icy conditions is to make sure you are fully aware of what’s going on around you and leave yourself enough time and space so you can react to changing road conditions.

Know what to do if things don’t go to plan  

No matter how safely you drive, there’s always a chance that your journey won’t go to plan. 

Feeling in control is essential when it comes to driving in wintery conditions. Be mindful of wheel tracks left by other drivers – if you can see the road surface beneath them, they’re probably the safest place for your wheels to go but, if under the tracks are white and you can see compacted snow, they can be very slippery. 

Drivers should be mindful when driving in temperatures below zero, that there could be ice on the roads which isn’t always visible. This is called black ice, and it tends to form on shaded or tree-covered roads that don’t get direct sunlight, so it is important to reduce your speed and be prepared.

Knowing what to do if you hit a patch of ice is an essential skill for all drivers. If your car starts to skid, you should ease off the accelerator to let the wheels try to regain grip. If this doesn’t work, and your car starts drifting further, turn into the skid to help bring your car back into line. 

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