Winter Driving in the UK



Driving in winter presents a potential danger to all motorists. Although the UK is generally safe from extreme weather, there are still precautions you can take to stay safe.

What driving conditions should I expect?

In wintry conditions, you should be prepared to drive slower, and be mindful of ice, black ice or torrential rain and snow. Generally, it is advisable to avoid driving in periods of heavy snow.

Be prepared for lower visibility and ensure your headlights and wipers are working. When performing manoeuvres, do so slowly and gently, pulling off in second gear if necessary. You should also be prepared for stopping distances to be 10x as longer, so stay well back.


How do I compensate for the weather?

You can perform a number of checks on your car to ensure it’s safe. Keep all fluids such as oil topped up, and ensure you use antifreeze. Make sure your tyres are safe by checking their tread depth, and switching to all weather tyres if you use summer tyres.

While driving, start by allowing yourself 10 extra minutes each morning to de-ice the car. Keep your number plate clear from snow: legally, this should be visible. Be prepared with extra fuel and a clear route of where you’re going, favouring major roads.

Do not use fog lights in any conditions other than fog, as these may dazzle other drivers. Keep a watchful eye for horses and cyclists, and leave yourself plenty of room on hills.


Should I take any special care of my tyres?

You should always look after your tyres, particularly in winter. All weather tyres will be able to handle wintry conditions in the UK, but you can help to prolong their life even further. Ideally, choose a tyre with a high mileage, and Carry out regular checks on pressures and wheel alignment and tread depth.


Do I need winter tyres in the UK?

For many British drivers, there is little reason to use winter tyres in the UK. Though they are designed for temperatures of 7°C and below, they are not a legal requirement. Equally, The UK rarely experiences the levels of extreme snow and ice for which winter tyres are designed and they are not a legal requirement (unlike in other European countries).

For extra reassurance, all weather tyres are a great alternative. Using an intermediate rubber compound, they can protect against ice and aquaplaning, and generally do not cost as much as winter tyres and will provide greater performance in warmer, drier conditions than winter tyres.


Are there specific areas that might need them?

Drivers in remote areas may want to consider winter tyres if they may have no other form of transport, or roads are not regularly gritted. Statistically, the snowiest areas in Britain are Scotland’s Cairngorms, Shetland Islands, Fair Isle and Orkney Islands, as well as England’s Copley, County Durham.

If you frequently drive to European countries during the snow season, e.g. to ski, you may also choose to fit winter tyres to be legally compliant with local laws, although all season tyres generally come with the necessary ‘M+S’ and ‘Snowflake’ markings.


How do I know if my car is ready for winter?

To help you remember the essential winter checks for your car, remember the FORCES: Fuel, Oil, Rubber (tyres), Coolant, Electrics and Screenwash. You can check your oil using the dipstick and a dry cloth. Ensure the coolant is topped up use the measuring gauge, and add antifreeze. Check the screenwash levels and test all your lights, asking a friend if necessary.

If your battery is more than four years old, it may suffer during the winter. Listen for an ‘engine lag’ when starting the engine, and replace it if you hear this.


How do I check that my tyres are safe?

Start by looking for cracks, cuts or bulges in the tyre. Arrange to replace the tyres if you notice any of these or speak to a reputable dealer or garage. Next up, check the tread depth. Legally, your tyres should have a minimum tread depth of 1.6mm around 75% of the wheel’s circumference.

You can test this by placing a 20 pence coin into the lowest tread depth of your tyre. If you cannot see the rim of the coin, this indicates the tyre is above 3mm, which is generally regarded as safest. Ask a mechanic if you’re not sure.

Finally, try to check tyre pressures at least once a month. Regular checks can avoid 3 penalty points and up to £2,500 in fines, so it’s best to stay safe.