Driving in snow: How to prepare and stay safe

Driving in snow

Snow can make for the most hazardous driving conditions (Picture © Renault)

Driving in snow presents car owners with one of their biggest challenges at the wheel. And with an arctic blast prompting forecasters to predict snow for the rest of the week, and some reports suggesting we’ve got a month of icy weather to look forward to, it’s time to be prepared for driving on slippery surfaces.

Research by tyre maker Goodyear showed that less than half of drivers, 48 per cent, ready their car for freezing conditions. Here are some simple steps to prepare for and then actually drive in snow. 

Driving in snow: Kit you should carry
As well as ensuring your car has sufficient anti-freeze, be sure you have plenty of screen wash – visibility is vital – and make sure you have some essentials in your boot. These should include an ice scraper, a shovel (collapsible ones are readily available), a tow rope, some sturdy shoes and a warm coat. If you’re going some distance and you think you may be stranded on a blocked road or in stationary traffic, ensure you’ve got a blanket and some energy bars on board. And a phone charger is a good idea if your phone’s battery life isn’t brilliant.

Driving in snow: Tyres are vital
Tyres are your only contact with the road so they come into their own in snowy conditions. At the very least, ensure yours are at the right pressures to maximise grip. You might want to consider winter tyres. These are designed to give grip at temperatures below 7 degrees Celsius and their tread design helps give traction in snow that regular tyres struggle with. The downside is they can be expensive, in which case, why not consider a set of snow chains? These are fitted to the driven wheels (usually the front) and you can buy them for £25 upwards. As with most things to do with motoring, you get what you pay for and more expensive snow chains can be easier to fit and sturdier.

Driving in snow: Clear your car off
Before you set off, use the ice scraper to get snow off all the windows, the mirrors, lights and number plates. If you have one to hand, use a broom to clear it off the roof. When you brake hard, it could slide over the windscreen and temporarily blind you. Alternatively when you accelerate, it could fly off into a following driver’s screen, blinding them. If your car is parked in deep snow, ensure there’s no snow obscuring the exhaust pipe.

Driving in snow: Clear around the wheels
Put the handbrake on and the car in gear. Then use a shovel to clear snow out of the way of the wheels. You can place sand, grit or even cat litter under the wheels in the direction you need to go, as this helps generate traction. But if you don’t have any, an alternative is to use the car’s floor mats. They may get trashed but if it gets you going again, it could be a sacrifice worth making.

Driving in snow: Easy does it
Stopping distances on slippery roads can be greatly increased. The Highway Code quotes a distance of 23m to stop from 30mph. On snow and ice it could be 10 times that so be aware as you approach junctions and bends. Brake slowly and progressively to maintain control of the car. The gentler the better with the controls when you’re driving in snow. Ordinarily you don’t want to spin the wheels as it will compact the snow and make it more slippery. And violent steering inputs can prompt the vehicle to spin.

Driving in snow: Getting a good run up
Stay a good distance behind the car in front. You don’t want to get involved in someone else’s accident. This is particularly important on slopes. One of the main reasons drivers get stuck going up slopes is that they don’t carry enough speed. But in order to do that, you need a clear run up.

Read our expert’s winter driving tips here.

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