How To Drive In Snow & Icy Conditions

Last Updated: 10/04/2021

Severe winter weather can cause very difficult moments for drivers.

Even if the roads you are driving on are very familiar to you, the situation changes significantly when snow or other wintry conditions hit.

Inexperienced drivers can cause significant issues when trying to drive in snow and icy weather but it can also be true of those with more experience who should know better.

Sometimes, drivers of 4x4s, for example, will speed past slower motorists because they have better grip.

While this is great for them, they’re driving dangerously because they’re often going too quick to stop safely and may be sending snow, ice or slush in to the roadway ahead of other motorists so be mindful of this.

In extreme cases, a heavy snowfall can also mean a night in a freezing car on the side of the road for you and your passengers.

If you find yourself in this scenario, you need to ensure that your car is prepared for such things.

What You Will Learn

Driving in snow and ice brings with it new considerations which all drivers, new and old, need to be aware of.

In winter, or if bad weather is forecast, you need to make sure your car is fully prepared for what mother nature can throw at it.

This guide has been put together to give you that very information and hopefully inform you ahead of the next extreme bout of wintery weather.

  • Step-By-Step Guide
  • Video Demonstration
  • Hints & Tips
  • Useful Information
  • Final Thoughts
  • Further Resources

Step-By-Step Guide

Don’t be caught out when the weather turns to snow or ice.

Good preparations for your journey will ensure that you have everything you need to deal with bad wintry conditions.

The following recommendations will keep you safe and on the road and is what the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) recommends:

  • When driving in snow, get your speed right – not too fast so that you risk losing control, but not so slow that you risk losing momentum when you need it – and brake, steer and accelerate as smoothly as possible.
  • Start gently in second gear, avoiding high revs. Stay in a higher gear for better control.
  • Only use the brake if you cannot steer out of trouble.
  • Stopping distances – a combination of the time it takes you to react, brake and then stop – increase considerably in snow and ice, so you need to adjust the distance at which you follow other vehicles accordingly.
  • Drive so that you do not rely on your brakes to be able to stop – on an icy surface they simply may not do that for you!
  • If your vehicle has ABS in very slippery conditions it will not give you the same control it would in others. Do not rely on it.
  • Plan your journey around busier roads as they are more likely to have been gritted. Avoid using shortcuts on minor roads – they are less likely to be cleared or treated with salt, especially country lanes.
  • On motorways, stay in the clearest lane where possible, away from slush and ice. Keep within the clear tyre tracks if you can.
  • On a downhill slope, get your speed low before you start the descent, and do not let it build up – it is much easier to keep it low than to try to slow down once things get slippery.
  • In falling snow, use dipped headlights or fog lights to make yourself visible to others (especially pedestrians) – but as conditions improve, make sure your fog lights are only on if necessary as they can dazzle other drivers
  • If you are following another vehicle at night, using their lights to see ahead can cause you to drive dangerously close – keep well back from other traffic.

Video Demonstration

Useful Information

Before You Set Off:

Make sure your tyres are properly inflated and that they are able to cope with slippery surfaces.

They should have a minimum of 3mm tread.

Check Your Battery:

Cold weather reduces the charge in your battery quicker than in summer.

If you find that your battery is flat, consult our guide for how to deal with a flat battery.

Emergency Snow Kit:

This kit could possibly save your life so make sure it is fully stocked.

You will need the following items:

  • Mobile phone (make sure this is regularly checked fully charged)
  • Snow shovel or spade
  • Ice scraper
  • Jump leads
  • Water and something to eat
  • Warm clothes and a change of footwear
  • Torch
  • Warm blanket
  • High visibility jacket
  • First aid kit

Fill Up On Fuel:

A full tank of fuel will enable you to complete your journey and will help you to stay warm by running the engine.

Make sure that the exhaust pipe is not clogged with snow to prevent poisonous fumes from entering the vehicle.

Clear Windows & Roof:

All your windows and roof must be fully cleared before beginning your journey.

Do not pour hot water on the windows as they will just freeze up again and hot water may cause them to crack.

Lock Access:

Locks can be kept freed up by heating your key before inserting it.

Hints & Tips

If You Get Stuck In Snow:

  • Use your wheels to push snow out of the way. Keep turning them from left to right until they loosen the snow.
  • If the wheels spin then do not continue as you will just get stuck even further.
  • Use the shovel in your kit and try to clear the snow in front of your wheels.
  • Try moving your vehicle from forward to reverse a number of times with your foot gently on the accelerator until you start moving forward.

Final Thoughts

If you are stuck and have to wait for assistance, use the clothes you have stored in your kit to help you keep warm.

Always wear your high visibility jacket if you have to get out of your vehicle, particularly if you are positioned in an area of low light.

Further Resources