From the Highways Agency Winter Advice




From the Highways Agency Make time for winter: advice to motorists

With snow and ice affecting many parts of the country (Jan 2010 )the IAM (Institute of Advanced Motorists) has issued advice for safe winter driving.

Before you set off:

  • Check the weather in advance – don’t ignore police warnings about closed roads or advice to not travel on specific routes.
  • Can you work remotely or re-schedule your travel to avoid the worst of the weather? Not everyone can, but the more people who are able to avoid travelling in poor weather, the better the journey is likely to be for those who have to move about. Considering other forms of transport can also work for some people in some places.

Once you’re on the move:

  • 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 from stationary, avoiding high revs. If you get yourself into a skid the main thing to remember is to take your foot off the pedals and steer.
  • Only use the brake if you cannot steer out of trouble.
  • It’s better to think ahead as you drive to keep moving, even if it is at walking pace.
  • Double or even triple your normal stopping distance from the vehicle in front. Drive so that you don’t 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. Don’t rely on it.  Traction control and other electronic systems (ESC) can really  help – but they cannot overcome the laws of physics, so don’t rely on them, use common sense
  • Plan your journey around busier roads as they are more likely to have been gritted. Avoid using short cuts 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.
  • Stay in a higher gear for better control, and if it is slippery, in a manual car move off in a higher gear, rather than just using first.
  • Bends are a particular problem in slippery conditions – slow down before you get to the bend, so that by the time you turn the steering wheel you have already lost enough speed
  • 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 and slow down once things get slippery
  • In falling snow use dipped headlights or foglights to make yourself visible to others (especially pedestrians) – but as conditions improve make sure your foglights 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.
  • Having windscreen wipers working for a lengthy time with snow falling can be mesmeric and quite a strain – be prepared to stop and give your eyes a rest, but choose the right place to do it!

Things to look out for:

  • Trucks can have large amounts of snow or ice on top that must come off sometime – be prepared for it to blow off on to your windscreen.
  • Black ice forms in shaded spots and areas exposed to cold winds.  Bridges are particularly prone to ice over first and thaw last
  • Approaches to junctions are usually more slippery, where the surface has been warn smooth by drivers constantly braking and trying to accelerate away.
  • Fresh snow can have frozen ice underneath it.  If it has fallen on dry clear ground the fresh, virgin snow will have a little more grip than where it has been compacted by other traffic.  If it has fallen on top of old snow be aware that you may actually be driving on wet ice.
  • As snow or ice melt they can leave a very slippery layer – slush is slippery stuff!


  • Allow extra time to prepare your car for the journey.
  • Always clear your windows, lights and mirrors.  Don’t forget that snow on the bonnet can blow onto your windscreen, so clear that off, and clear the roof to avoid snow being blown back onto traffic following you before you start your journey.
  • Make sure you have an emergency kit so you are prepared in the event of a breakdown. This should include a torch, food for energy, water and a blanket. For snow you also need a shovel with you. On longer journeys always let someone know you have set off and tell them your planned route. 
  • Ensure your mobile is charged up so you can make a call in an emergency – but don’t use it when driving!
  • Do a proper winter check of your vehicle, looking at washer fluid, de-icer/scraper and tyres.
  • If you leave the car engine running to help de-ice windows before you start the journey, make sure that there is someone with the car – a cold thief may see a warm opportunity, and some insurers may not pay out in those circumstances


  • Keep track of where you are.  If you need to call for assistance, you need to be able to tell the breakdown or emergency services your location, so they can find you
  • If you must leave your vehicle to telephone for assistance, find a safe place to stand away from the traffic flow. If you have just lost control the next driver can do the same in the same place.
  • On Motorways and dual carriageways it is usually better to leave your vehicle and stand a short distance behind and to the safe side of it. Don’t stand in front of it if at all possible.  Balancing the risks of the car being crashed into and hypothermia is something that depends on your situation

Make Time for Winter - your guide to driving in severe weather

Winter can be a busy time for everybody. Whether working, at school or on holiday, there's so much to remember. But whatever occupies your time this winter, don't get caught out when driving in severe weather. Don't just drive, prepare.

For a smoother journey check your vehicle is ready for winter

Regularly servicing and checking your vehicle is in good running order before setting out, will reduce your chances of breaking down on the road. It's worth making these checks regularly - and particularly before a long journey:

  • Check and replace the anti-freeze in the radiator
  • Make sure your lights are clean and check the bulbs 
  • Ensure your windscreen is clean 
  • Replace the battery if it's not reliable
  • Ensure your tyres are correctly inflated and replace them if the tread has reached the legal minimum.

Be a smarter driver - check traffic and weather updates

Before you set off it's worth taking a few minutes to make sure that there aren't any problems on your intended route. You can check for live updates as you travel too - but remember not to use your phone while driving.


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