Driving in winter comes with many potential hazards on the roads. You could be confronted with dense fog, heavy rain, a flurry of snow or ice on the roads. Whether you’re a new driver or an experienced truck driver, these wintry conditions mean you must take extra care when driving.
So, how do you ensure you’re driving safely in winter? You should be prepared to drive slower, be mindful of road conditions and take care when performing manoeuvres. Here’s a selection of winter driving tips that you should follow to keep yourself and other road users safe.
1. Plan Your Route and Check the Forecast
It’s always important to prepare well before you set off on any journey. But it’s doubly important if there’s a chance you’re going to be confronted with hazardous winter weather. Try to plan your route using major roads which will be gritted and cleared regularly. B-roads are less likely to be gritted than A-roads, so avoid them if snow or ice is expected.
More information on driving in hazardous weather conditions:
2. Give Yourself More Time
In wintery conditions, you should be prepared to drive slower. Whether there is ice on the roads, dense fog ahead or heavy rain forecast, it is important that you take your time. Other road users will also be more cautious, so give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination. Not only that, but you will also need to allow yourself time to de-ice your car windows.
3. Keep all Fluids Topped Up
Make sure your oil and windscreen wash are topped up. You should also use antifreeze, which can help to protect your engine from damage. You can check your oil using the dipstick and a dry cloth. Ensure the coolant is topped up and add antifreeze as necessary. Unexpected delays could happen, so make sure you’ve got plenty fuel in your tank.
4. Make Your Car Visible
In winter we have shorter daylight hours, which causes poorer visibility, especially during rush hours. And if you add fog, frost, snow or heavy rain to dark mornings and evenings, you’ll need to take extra care to be seen easily by other road users. Start by making sure all lights are working and clear from snow or dirt. Only use your fog lights in foggy conditions otherwise you may dazzle other drivers. Also, keep your number plate clear from snow. Legally, this should always be visible.
5. Clear Your Windows of Snow, Ice & Mist
Clear all your windows and mirrors of snow, ice and condensation. Only set off when you have maximum visibility out of every window. If it has snowed, you should clear the snow from the roof of your car to prevent it falling onto the windows. If your wiper blades are worn or damaged, you should replace them.
6. Check Your Tyres
One of the most important winter driving tips is to make sure your tyres are in good condition. You should always look after your tyres, but this is especially important in winter. 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. Regular checks can avoid 3 penalty points and up to £2,500 in fines, so it’s best to stay safe.
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 a good guide. Ask a mechanic if you’re not sure.
Finally, try to check tyre pressures at least once a month to ensure they are in line with what your vehicle manufacturer recommends.
7. Use All Season or Winter Tyres (Look for M+S or Snowflake Tyre Markings)
Winter tyres are designed to perform best at temperatures of 7°C and below as a guide. They are not a legal requirement in the UK as we do not experience extreme snow and ice (unlike in other European countries). However, if you regularly drive long distances through winter and especially if you drive in rural areas where roads are not always gritted, you should consider investing in winter tyres.
Alternatively, all season tyres provide extra reassurance for drivers not considering winter tyres. The design of the tread grooves on all season tyres help to protect against aquaplaning by moving water away from the tyre contact area. All season tyres also provide good performance all year round, meaning you won’t have to revert to summer tyres in the warmer months.
If you frequently drive to European countries during the snow season, it may be legal to fit winter tyres to comply with local laws, although all season tyres generally come with the necessary 3PMSF marking markings.
8. Never Mix Your Tyres
You should never mix winter and summer tyres. Mixing tyres in this way can make slippery conditions more dangerous and affect how well your vehicle handles, especially if the tyres have different tread patterns and performance features. So if you’re considering winter or all season tyres, make sure you change all four tyres.
9. Pack A Winter Survival Kit
It might sound a bit much for our mild winters, but you never know how long you might be held up on the roads, so making sure you have all the right supplies in your car is essential. Here’s what you should include:
Lastly, to help you remember the essential winter checks and winter driving tips, remember the FORCES acronym: Fuel, Oil, Rubber (tyres), Coolant, Electrics and Screen wash. If you are interested in learning more about snow, read Goodyear’s science of snow.