As the winter begins to settle in and the weather takes a turn for the worst, you may find yourself having to drive in icy conditions, with severely less grip than you’d become accustomed to during the warmer summer months. If you’ve never driven in snow before, or you’re out of practice and are feeling rather nervous about getting behind the wheel, then let us try and calm those nerves and get you confidently driving in winter.
How to drive a car in the snow
There are a few things you have to take in consideration when driving in adverse conditions, as the roads will not have the same level of grip and require greater concentration. With that in mind, the following tips should help ensure you remain safe on the road, even in the sharpest of winters.
- Make sure any footwear is comfortable and dry. Wet shoes could see your feet slipping off the pedals.
- Be steady on the pedals and short-shift up to the highest gear possible, meaning you only use the lower rev ranges
- Pull away in second gear to reduce the chance of wheelspin
- Leave more of a gap – up to 10 times as much – between you and the car in front than normal as stopping distances are greatly reduced.
- Prepare for hills in order to maintain a constant speed and avoid changing gear
- Use a low gear going downhill and only brake if necessary
- Brake in a straight line ahead of corners, slowing down before you start to turn the wheel
- Use dipped headlights if driving in heavy snow – do not rely on your daytime running lights as these may only turn on your front lights
- Use fog lights if your visibility drops below 100m, remembering to turn them off if visibility improves
- If driving on a road that has not been gritted, try to avoid driving in the wheel tracks of other vehicles – fresh snow will likely have more grip than compressed snow
- Ironically, sunglasses may be able to assist with your visibility, reducing the glare of low winter sun on snow
- Be aware of areas of road where the sun can’t reach, as these can stay icy all day while the rest of the road has thawed. Bridges can be especially tricky, and are often the first to freeze and the last to thaw.
How to react if your car slides on ice
If your car begins to skid, gently steer into it. This means if the car is sliding to the right, steer to the right. Do not take your hands off the wheel or slam on the brakes.
How to drive an automatic car in the snow and ice?
Driving an automatic in the snow is no different to driving a manual in the snow and once you have got moving, the main differences will come when you are preparing to pull away. Some automatics come with a winter mode, which will change the gearbox pattern. Alternatively, if your car has a manual option you can switch to this and move away in second gear, making sure you’re in a higher gear while driving to reduce revs. For more tips on how to drive safely in snow and ice, read our guide to driving safely in the winter.
Is it illegal to drive with snow on your car?
There is no law that explicitly states it is illegal to drive with snow on your car, however the Highway Code, along with section 41D of the Road Traffic Act 1988, states that you must be able to see out of every glass panel in your vehicle and have a clear view of the road ahead of you before you set off. This includes ensuring your windscreen is de-iced and demisted on the outside and inside respectively.
The same goes for snow on the roof of your car. While there is no law saying it is illegal, if it falls onto your windscreen or into the path of another vehicle then you can be penalised for either ‘driving without due consideration’ or ‘using a motor vehicle in a dangerous condition’.
How do self-driving cars work in snow and ice
Some self-driving cars struggle in snowy conditions as the snow can cause disruptions to the data that helps vehicles gauge depth, as well as hiding road markings. The artificial intelligence algorithms will also struggle with picking out cars or pedestrians covered in snow or under many layers of clothing when they are mainly trained to identify them in bright sunshine. Many scientists are currently working on solutions, including researchers at MIT, one of the best universities in the world and with a strong reputation in technology and science. Despite this the general consensus is there is a lot of work needed before self-driving cars are going to be able to handle snowy conditions.
Are front drive cars better in snow?
Front-wheel-drive cars often have an advantage in wintery conditions as more of their weight sits at the front of the car, allowing for much better handling in snow and ice than a rear-wheel-drive option, although it does make for reduced performance overall. The best option, though, would be to go for all-wheel-drive. With power set to all four wheels, you have optimum traction and can make getting out of a snowy driveway much easier.
Are snow chains necessary in winter?
If you’re planning on going on a skiing holiday and intend on driving your car across, then you may find that carrying a set of snow chains in the boot is a mandatory requirement. In the UK, while it is rare for snow tyres to be used, if you like in remote or hilly areas where roads are less likely to get gritted, a set of snow chains could be what gets you home. However, you must remove them as soon as you reach a clear section of road, otherwise you risk damaging both your car and the road.
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For more hints and tips on keeping your car safely on the road, including maintenance guides and answering legal questions, visit our Car Care hub.