Safe driving in winter conditions

Driving in winter

Do you REALLY need to take the car?

For local journeys walking or taking the bus or could be safer options when it comes to winter travel. Fewer cars on our roads are not only better for the environment but also for your own and other people's safety.

If you must take the car:

  • Slow down during the darker hours. With limited visibility, you might not spot other road users until you're closer to them so you need to reduce your stopping distance.
  • Switch on your lights, even if it's daylight. You may think you don't need them because you can see where you're going, but others may not see you in the gloomy light.
  • Look out for pedestrians and cyclists, especially during the darker mornings and evenings.
  • Consider car-sharing as a way of reducing the number of cars on the road in icy conditions. 
  • Remove snow, ice and de-misted the windows before you set off. It's the law.
  • Carry blankets, water and food with you if you are travelling long distances.

Share the road safely

Remember, as a driver, you are protected by the car around you. Walkers and cyclists are much more vulnerable and will come off worse in a collision. Please be aware of others sharing the road with you.

Overtaking cyclists

Overtaking cyclists

The Highway Code states drivers should give cyclists at least as much room as a car when overtaking. This is because it can be dangerous for cyclists to travel close to the kerb, where there may be potholes and drains that they must avoid. This is particularly important in wet or dark conditions.


The Dutch Reach

The Dutch Reach icon

The Dutch Reach is a way of opening the door that forces you to look behind the car before opening, so you can easily see if any cyclists or pedestrians are approaching from behind. 

How to do the Dutch Reach

  1. Drivers and passengers each use the far hand to open the car door. 
  2. Reach across for the door handle.
  3. Forced to Swivel, you automatically look out, at the mirror and easily back for bikes, walkers and traffic.

This way of opening the door is endorsed by Cycling UK, Uber and many motoring and cycling groups. It is part of road safety and drivers' education in Holland.

Get ready to drive

Some useful guides to driving in icy conditions

The AA has a great page on winter driving advice, summarised here.  

Sainsbury's also has a guide about driving in winter. It's full of useful information on preparing your car for the change in weather, along with how best to drive in different road conditions. Sainsbury's winter driving guide.

What the AA says:

  • Plan your route to follow major roads which are more likely to have been cleared and gritted
  • Clear all windows, lights and roof fully using a scraper and de-icer and de-mist your front and rear windscreens.
  • Give yourself more time, at least 10 minutes, to prepare the car and allow extra time for your journey.
  • Ensure your tyres are safe - The AA recommends at least 3mm of tread for winter motoring, and certainly no less than 2mm and check they’re inflated to the correct pressure. Consider changing to winter or all-season tyres
  • Check your battery. Battery lasts around 5 years replacing one near the end of its life can save a lot of time and inconvenience at the side of the road. Save your battery - turn the heater fans down and turn off non-essential lights, rear screen heater and wipers before trying to start the engine.
  • If your car begins to overheat it's likely that the radiator has frozen preventing coolant from circulating. Stop straight away to avoid serious damage and allow the radiator to thaw.
  • Make sure your windscreen wipers are switched off when leaving the car when there's a risk of freezing, to avoid damage to the screen and wipers when you turn the engine on.

Driving in snow

  • Gentle manoeuvres are the key to safe driving - stopping distances are 10 times longer in ice and snow.
  • Wear comfortable, dry shoes for driving. Cumbersome, wet or snow-covered boots will slip on the pedals. 
  • Pull away in second gear, easing your foot off the clutch gently to avoid wheel-spin.
  • Up hill - avoid having to stop on a hill by waiting until it is clear of other cars or by leaving plenty of space between you and the car in front.
  • Down hill - reduce your speed before the hill, use a low gear and try to avoid using the brakes. Leave as much room as possible between you and the car in front. If you have to use brakes then apply them gently.



  • Keep a constant speed, choosing the most suitable gear well in advance to avoid having to change down on the hill.
  • Automatic transmission - under normal driving conditions (motorways, etc) it's best to select 'Drive' and let the gearbox do the work throughout the full gear range. In slippery, snowy conditions it's best to select '2', which limits the gear changes and also makes you less reliant on the brakes. Some autos have a 'Winter' mode which locks out first gear to reduce the risk of wheel spin. Check the handbook.
  • If you get stuck, straighten the steering and clear the snow from the wheels. Put a sack or old rug in front of the driving wheels to give the tyres some grip. Once on the move again, try not to stop until you reach firmer ground.

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