Woman scraping car windscreen on snowy day
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How to drive safely during winter

Driving in icy conditions, heavy rain or snow can be challenging, especially if you’re not driving as often as usual. 

If you have to take to the roads in wintry conditions, there are steps you can take to do it as safely and confidently as possible. Here are some winter driving tips to help you stay safe on the road.

1. Keep your car well-maintained

From checking your tyres to keeping windscreen wash topped up, it’s especially important to keep your car well maintained in the winter. Read our guide for steps you can take to keep your car roadworthy in winter.     

2. Pack an emergency kit

It’s always a good idea to be prepared, in case your car breaks down in wintry conditions. 

Ensure you have an ice scraper and a fully charged mobile phone, or that you have a phone charger that can be used in the car to hand. It’s also a good idea to include warm clothes, a blanket and a pair of practical, winter shoes. Other essentials include a torch, water and food, and a shovel in case of snow.

3. Clear your windscreens

Clear ice and snow completely from your windscreen and other windows and mirrors before setting off. 

It can take a bit of time to do it properly, so you may want to allow about 10 minutes before you drive off to ensure your car is ice-free and you can start your journey with plenty of time to spare.

A scraper and some de-icer should help you do the job as easily and quickly as possible.

4. Pay attention to your warning lights

It’s not always possible to predict a car breakdown but paying attention to the warning lights on your dashboard is a good first step.

If a warning light comes on, whether it’s because of the fuel level, the tyres, the oil or some other issue, it’s crucial that you pay heed to it and get the issue checked as soon as possible.

5. Start in second gear in icy or snowy conditions

To reduce the risk of your car losing its grip in icy or snowy conditions, select second gear when you pull away[1] and ease your foot off the clutch gently to avoid wheel-spin.

Some cars allow you to select a winter driving mode, which automatically does that for you.

6. Keep your distance

Braking distances can double in wet conditions or increase 10-fold in snow or ice[2]. So, if you’re driving in rainy or snowy conditions, you’ll need to leave more space than usual between your vehicle and the one in front.

Keeping your distance from other vehicles also helps to reduce the spray hitting your windscreen and obscuring your vision.

7. Watch out for black ice

You can’t always see ice on the road, especially if it’s ‘black ice’ – so called because you can see the black of the road through a thin layer of ice. It can be hard to spot, but you can look out for glossy, wet looking patches of road and drive with extra care.

That means slowing down and being gentle with your brakes, accelerator, steering, clutch and gears[3].

8. Stick to major roads, if possible

If you can, stick to major routes when the weather conditions are rough. In snowy weather, these are more likely to have been gritted and snow is also less likely to settle on busy roads.

Main roads are also maintained more regularly, which can help prevent flooding in rainy or stormy weather.

If you can’t avoid driving on wet or flooded roads, you need to drive extra carefully to decrease the risk of aquaplaning[4].

9. Use your fog lights correctly

You may not use your fog lights that often, so it’s a good idea to take a look around your car and make sure you remember how to turn them on and off. 

You should only use fog lights when visibility drops below 100 metres, which is roughly the length of a football pitch[5]. Ensure you turn them off when conditions improve to avoid dazzling other drivers. 

Fog will reduce your visibility while driving, so you should also slow down and keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you.

If the weather is too extreme, then it’s probably best to avoid driving altogether, unless it’s absolutely necessary. But if you do need to drive in wintry conditions, these simple steps can help you take to the road safely and with added peace of mind.


[1] https://www.theaa.com/driving-advice/seasonal/winter
[2] https://www.rac.co.uk/drive/advice/learning-to-drive/stopping-distances/
[3] https://www.safedrivingforlife.info/drivers-and-riders/drivers/driver-knowledge-centre/driving-snow-and-ice
[4] https://www.rac.co.uk/drive/advice/winter-driving/understanding-aquaplaning/
[5] https://www.rac.co.uk/drive/advice/winter-driving/safe-driving-in-fog/

Originally written in January 2021, updated in September 2023