Winter driving tips: 8 common mistakes to avoid when driving in the snow and ice

(Composite: NationalWorld/Shutterstock)(Composite: NationalWorld/Shutterstock)
(Composite: NationalWorld/Shutterstock) | (Composite: NationalWorld/Shutterstock)
From failing to plan to wearing the wrong clothes, these mistakes could leave you stuck during wintry weather

A sudden cold snap is bringing warnings of treacherous conditions on the UK’s roads.

Some parts of the country have already experienced heavy snowfall causing problems for drivers and there are warnings of further disruption in the coming days. Parts of northern England have already seen heavy snow and the Met Office is predicting that this will spread into Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as south-west England.

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For anyone in areas affected by heavy snow, the best advice is to avoid driving unless it’s absolutely necessary. Of course, that’s not possible for everyone so it’s important to take care on the roads and avoid making mistakes that will make matters more difficult. Mistakes like:

Not planning in advance

If you do have to head out, there are a few things you can do to make your journey a lot easier, including planning your route in advance. Assuming roads are open or failing to give yourself more time could leave you stuck, so check traffic reports for closures or delays before setting off.

Stick to main roads that see a lot of traffic. Well-travelled routes, especially those with public transport links, are most likely to have been ploughed and gritted while more minor routes will be low down the priority list. You should also avoid more exposed routes where ice, snow, floods and wind can make the going treacherous.

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You should check whether there are breakdowns or closures on your route before setting off (Photo: Shutterstock)You should check whether there are breakdowns or closures on your route before setting off (Photo: Shutterstock)
You should check whether there are breakdowns or closures on your route before setting off (Photo: Shutterstock) | Shutterstock

Not clearing snow and ice from your car

Driving with snow and ice on your car is both dangerous and illegal but every cold snap brings fresh evidence of irresponsible motorists putting themselves and others at risk. It might take a little longer but making sure you clear any snow and ice from your windows and roof will make matters safer for yourself and other road users. And don’t forget to clear your number plate too, failing to do so can carry a fine of up to £1,0000.

Driving too close

No matter how bad the weather, the UK’s roads seem plagued by drivers who can’t keep a safe distance from the car in front. In wet weather stopping distances can double but in snow and ice they can be up to 10 times longer than on dry roads. That means it’s vital to leave more space to the car in front. This gives you more time to react if they slow down or lose control and gives a better view of the road around you.

Using the wrong gear

Pulling away in first gear is how we’re taught to drive but snow and ice call for a change in approach. Starting in first gear on slippery surfaces is likely to result in lots of wheelspin and not much movement.

Instead, start in second gear and carefully change up as soon as. Once in a high gear, aim to keep your revs low as this will help to prevent your wheels from spinning over icy road surfaces. Ideally, changing gear should be avoided as much as possible.

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Letting air out of your tyres

One of the common winter driving myths many people believe is that reducing tyre pressure will increase the grip you have in the snow but, according to the experts from Iceland’s Lotus Car Rental that is simply not true.

A spokesman said: “As car tyres are designed to function at a particular pressure, deflating them can actually reduce the control you have when driving on snow and ice. Keeping your tyres pumped up should therefore be a key priority not least because they’re more likely to deflate in cold and wintry conditions. This is because cold air is more dense than warm air so when the temperature drops, your tyre pressure will drop with it.

Being unprepared for delays

Bad weather inevitably brings an increase in accidents and breakdowns. Even if you’re not directly involved, these can often lead to long delays and drivers being stuck in their cars for hours. So failing to pack some essentials is at best inconvenient and at worst dangerous.

The RAC’s breakdown spokesman Rod Dennis advises: "It’s essential drivers go out prepared by packing warm clothes and blankets, sturdy footwear, food and drink and a portable battery charger (power bank) so their mobiles don’t let them down even if their vehicles do.”

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It’s also a good idea to pack a torch, warning triangle, high visibility jacket and tow rope, just in case you do get stuck.

Wearing winter clothes at the wheel

Going outside in cold weather and snow means piling on the layers to keep warm and choosing some sturdy footwear. However, if cosy clothes interfere with your driving you could be in trouble.

There’s no specific law around what you can and can’t wear at the wheel but the Highway Code states that you should ensure "clothing and footwear do not prevent you using the controls in the correct manner".

Bulky coats and gloves can limit your movements and control behind the wheel so it’s important to ditch them before you set off. Just make sure to keep them in the car in case you break down or get stuck.

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Forgetting your lights

Lotus’s expert warns against sticking with daytime running lights when the weather gets bad: “When driving in heavy snow make sure that you use your dipped headlights. Relying on daytime running lights will not be enough because they don’t always put lights on the back of your car.

“If your visibility drops below 100 metres it’s important that you put your fog lights on immediately. Remember to turn them off again when the visibility improves otherwise you’re at risk of dazzling other road users.”

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