Watching the snow settle or waking up to a white blanket of snow outside your window often causes mixed emotions. At first there's excitement that has many of us rushing to social media to share our view and then comes the dread that we're going to have to attempt to travel in it.
Driving in the extreme conditions caused by snow and the proceeding ice presents a number of challenging and dangerous situations on the roads. We've put together our top tips for preparing to drive in snow and ice safely and how to handle the conditions once you're on the road.
As soon as you know that snow is likely to fall, you should start to prepare for the roads to be slippery and icy. Before you go anywhere, you should plan for the worst - this means breaking down or getting stuck in a blizzard and either having to wait to be rescued or abandoning your vehicle. If this happens, you should have a blanket, a torch, a tow rope, jump leads, food and water as part of a cold weather kit. Other items that you might want to carry include a shovel, hi-vis jacket and a phone charger.
Road conditions are more hazardous in the snow, especially side roads that don't receive as much traffic or attention from gritters. So, before setting out on your journey, you should plan a route to include as many main roads as possible and avoid side roads that are likely to be in a worse condition. If your normal route also includes steep inclines, it is advisable to try and avoid them because they are going to be more difficult to climb when they're icy and slippery. Although an alternative route might take you longer to complete, it is likely to be safer.
Your route is planned, your car is stocked with a cold weather kit and you're ready to get going. It's important to make sure your car also is ready to tackle the roads with some simple checks. Before you get in, walk around the car and check the tread depth on each of your tyres. The legal minimum is 1.6mm; however, safety expert recommend tyres are changed when they reach 3mm remaining. The more grip they have, the better they will perform on the slippery road surface.
Clearing all of the snow off your car is imperative for your safety and the safety of other people on the road. It is irresponsible and illegal to drive when you've only cleared snow to give you partial visibility. Section 229 of the Highway Code states that drivers must "remove all snow that might fall into the path of other road users" which includes snow on the roof. You can be given a £60 fine and three penalty points if a police officer catches you driving with snow on your car or sees it fall from your vehicle onto the road.
Once you've cleared all the snow you should check that your windscreen wipers aren't frozen to the windscreen and rear window and that you're screenwash hasn't frozen with the drop in temperature.
A cautious approach to driving is the safest and most effective when dealing with icy and slippery conditions caused by snowfall. Make sure to have your dipped headlights on to increase your visibility - daytime running lights don't often provide rear lighting.
In a manual car, using a higher gear to pull away will help to prevent your wheels from spinning. Once you've got the car moving it's best to try and keep it moving where possible to maintain momentum and avoid having to pull away from a stationary position.
Driving in the snow is all about being smooth when you accelerate, brake and steer, and avoiding sudden sharp inputs. Give yourself extra time to react to everything happening in front of you by keeping an extra large distance between you and the vehicle in front. It can take up to 10 times longer for a vehicle to respond in the snow.
You also need to give other road users time to prepare for what you're doing on the road, so start to indicate your turns and lane changes earlier than normal. You should also gently apply your brakes sooner than you normally would to let drivers behind you know that you're slowing down to turn.
It's highly likely that you are going to experience your vehicle sliding no matter how carefully you drive. The most important thing to remember is to not panic when this happens; sudden steering movements and stamping on the brakes will actually cause you to lose more control and extend the slide than bring you to a halt.
If you feel the front wheels starting to slide you need to ease off the accelerator and straighten the steering to allow the tyres to regain their grip. If the rear of your car starts to skid you need to steer into the slide - what we mean here is that if your car is sliding to the right, then turn your steering wheel to the right. Don't take your hands off the steering wheel and slam on the brakes.
In the worst case scenario of driving in the snow your vehicle will get stuck and you will need to abandon it. Try to move it as far off the road and out of the way as possible so that you don't block the path of other drivers and reduce the risk of it being crashed into.
If you're stuck on an incline and your car keeps slipping back down, the best thing to do is apply a full left lock to your steering so that the car heads towards the side of the road and apply the handbrake causing the rear wheels to lock. The front wheels will then build a bank of snow like a plough to slow your slide.