Living in the UK means dealing with all forms of unpleasant weather, and while it would be nice to stay indoors when it starts to snow, it’s not always possible.
When it snows and ice builds upon the road, this is one of the most dangerous settings to drive in, and as a motorist, it’s your responsibility to know how to do so safely.
How do you drive in icy conditions? There’s a lot of preparation to be done before driving in winter including having supplies in the car, tools like an ice scraper and shovel, and knowing the techniques to drive carefully.
You want to avoid main roads, drive slow enough to be safe but with enough speed to keep traction, so it’s a process that requires a lot of caution.
Driving in these conditions isn’t always ideal but it’s part and parcel of living in the UK at times.
Unless the weather is too tumultuous to drive in, knowing how to prepare your card and be able to handle a range of conditions safely is essential, so check out our guide to help you do just that.
The Dangers of Driving in Icy Conditions
Winter presents a challenge for drivers and there is a whole new world of dangerous conditions you have to manoeuvre.
Driving in icy conditions presents a risk because it means your tyres are no longer able to get a grip on the road, and you can lose control of your vehicle quite easily.
As the temperature drops, ice forms on the road and changes the surface of it so your tyres aren’t able to gain traction.
This can be standard ice or black ice, both of which are dangerous and require different precautions.
Other cold weather conditions like snow and hail are just as dangerous in winter, and a responsible motorist should be prepared for them and know how to handle the situation.
Preparation for Driving on Icy Roads
Planning is key when you’re driving in winter and if you have a journey coming up where it can’t be avoided, you need to be prepared.
This means preparing yourself as well as the vehicle, so you’ll need a first aid kit, warm clothing, a fully charged phone, snacks, and a torch, just in case your car breaks down or you can’t go any further in these harsh conditions.
To prepare your car, you should consider investing in winter tyres that are made for these types of roads.
These tyres will give you additional grip on the road and help with traction which is something regular tyres fail to do. If you decide to keep your standard tyres on, you’ll want them filled to the right pressure level and with at least 3mm of tread on them.
Other things you should do to prepare your car are keeping a full tank of fuel before heading out, checking that your car battery is charged, and pouring an anti-freeze solution into your screenwash compartment so the water doesn’t freeze and turn to ice.
Spray some WD-40 into the locks of your doors to enable to key to get in even when it’s frozen, and have a lighter handy in case you need some additional help making the key warm enough to get through the ice.
Safety Tips to Follow
In these uncertain circumstances, it pays to be constantly aware and have as much knowledge as you can about dealing with icy roads and conditions.
These are some essential safety tips that are easy for every driver to follow, ensuring you get to your destination safely.
- Before you drive anywhere, clear off any snow or ice from the windscreen, windows, and roof of the car. This’ll stop anything unexpectedly falling and covering the windscreen, blocking your view.
- Avoid using home remedies like hot water to clear a windscreen as it can crack the glass. Have a few dedicated tools for this purpose and store them in your car so you always have access to them.
- When buying a new car, look for one with features designed for ice and snow driving. Some have a snow mode you can turn on that will adjust the gearbox to enable safer driving.
- Be careful to avoid wheel spin when driving on the ice, and keep your car in second gear when you’re pulling away from somewhere. The higher the gear, the better you’ll be able to control the vehicle, especially as your speed increases.
- Think about adjusting your speed to meet the conditions, but without going too slow. You need to find the right middle ground between fast and slow so that you keep the momentum up but avoiding sliding.
- Learn about stopping distances on the ice and put this knowledge into practice. During winter in snow and ice, it will take 10 times as long to come to a stop so make sure you have enough room to do so safely.
- Everything needs to be done smoothly in these conditions and there should be no sudden movements. Steering, braking, and accelerating all have to be gentle so you can avoid trouble.
- If you become stuck in the snow, the best approach is to turn your steering wheel from side to side to try and clear a path. Otherwise, use your shovel to dig the wheels out and then lay some old carpet down to give yourself traction.
What is Black Ice?
Black ice or a black ice road is used to describe what happens to a road sometimes when it’s covered than ice.
Unlike a standard icy road that can be spotted by its visually sleek and glossy appearance, a black ice road might appear matte instead, and it can be easily missed by a motorist.
When driving in winter, you must always be prepared for this type of road, which means keeping an eye out for unusual conditions.
Black ice might look like a slight glossy sheen or you could see other cars trying to swerve around it, and other times, you won’t see it coming at all.
It’s more common in lesser-used roads or those that are shaded by things like tunnels and bridges as the temperature here will usually be lower.
If you do drive over black ice, it’s important not to panic. Do whatever you can to safely keep the steering wheel straight and keep a constant speed.
Although you might want to brake, you should avoid it, as you’ll need to keep the car driving smoothly and avoid any sudden movements.
Safe Driving in Hail
Hail is another weather phenomenon that occurs in the UK, and not just in winter. If you’re driving and a hail storm starts, you should pull over somewhere safely under shelter and not attempt to drive through it.
Not only can they inhibit visibility on the road but cause physical damage to your car with just a single hailstone.
While your car is pulled over, try to park it at an angle so the hail hits the front of the car and not the sides.
The front parts of a car like a windshield are more durable and reinforced to withstand a crash so they’re better protected against hailstones.
Staying Safe No Matter the Weather
It’s never advisable to drive in icy or snowy conditions, but if you can’t avoid it and the weather isn’t too extreme, there are ways to do it right.
If you live in this kind of climate and regularly run the risk of driving in the cold, you want to be prepared with the right tools and know-how to do it safely.
Safe driving is important no matter the weather but when you’re up against hail, snow, and ice, it’s even more crucial.
If you live in a colder climate and want to know about safe driving in the winter, we’ve answered some FAQs that can help you drive responsibly in these conditions.
Do Winter Tyres Make a Difference in the Rain?
A winter tyre is designed to drive in conditions like snow and ice, but it can also be helpful when it’s wet.
These tyres will improve braking and traction in cold temperatures which gives your car a better grip on the road, and when it’s wet, they work especially well as an added safety feature.
Is AWD or 4WD Better To Drive in the Snow?
An all-wheel-drive vehicle is better to drive during winter when conditions are still safe enough to do so, and they work especially well on snowy and icy roads.
However, a four-wheel drive is still a safe option and tends to work better in deep snow and extreme conditions, so it depends on the driving situation.