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How to drive in snow safely

There’s snow in a cold snap forecast set to hit the UK – here’s how to drive safely over fresh powder

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With heavy snow forecast for the UK towards the end of next week, we’d advise that anyone who doesn’t absolutely have to drive shouldn’t when the white stuff begins to fall.

Venturing out on snow is a risky experience no matter how many miles you have under your belt, and with the majority of UK motorists driving around on summer tyres year-round, our cars are often ill-equipped to handle fresh powder, or worse, ice.

But if you absolutely must hit the road when it snows, here are some handy tips to improve your safety.

Adjust your speed to the conditions

Speed limits are set for normal conditions, so while 30mph might not seem that fast in dry weather, on snow, your braking distance is dramatically increased. Sometimes tenfold.

Reducing your speed is essential in reducing the chances of you skating into a car or object ahead.

Drive at the speed you feel comfortable – few people will mind you driving slow if the conditions are bad – and look ahead, as you’ll need more time to react to changing circumstances on the road.

Be smooth with the accelerator

When driving off from a standing start, you should be very gentle with the accelerator.

If you’re driving an automatic car, it might be worth just letting the car creep forward before you begin to press the right pedal.

If you drive a manual, go easy on the revs and lift the clutch very gradually.

This helps the tyres to bite into the snow and reduces the chance of slip. If you do start to feel the wheels slip, ease off the power and start the process again.

Be smooth with the brakes

This is especially important, because even cars with safety-improving tech like anti-lock braking systems (ABS) can really struggle in snow.

When you brake, squeeze the pedal gently and only increase the pressure gradually.

Any sudden increase in pressure will likely cause the tyre to skid, triggering the ABS and reducing your braking performance. In short, it means your braking distance will increase.

As counter intuitive as that sounds, gentle braking is key – as is driving slower to reduce your braking distance in the first place.

Steer smoothly

Yep, more smoothness please. This time it’s with your hands, because turning aggressively on snow can cause the car to slide.

To maintain control of your car while navigating corners, keep both hands on the wheel, turn gently and keep your speed down.

If you don’t have to accelerate through the bend (you may need to on a hill), don’t.

Same goes for braking; rolling through corners at a steady speed is the safest way to navigate over snow.

If you must brake, take the advice in the point above with added caution.

Plan your route

Unless you’re lucky enough to live in an area where most routes are gritted, you may find that some roads are inaccessible.

Residential roads that can’t be gritted can be especially dangerous. Think twice before heading onto routes that are especially slippy; same goes for routes that are hilly.

Driving up or down a hill in snow are some of the hardest things you can do in a car, especially if it’s not fitted with winter tyres.

Fit winter/snow tyres

This is the best thing you can do if you’re heading out in snow. Snow tyres, or even winter tyres with a snow-capability, transform a car in the snow.

It’s like swapping your flat-soled leather shoes for hiking boots. You still need to heed all the advice above, but the risk factor is greatly reduced.

Of course, we’re not suggesting many people will have the time or budget to switch to winter tyres at short notice, but if you can, you won’t regret it.

Clear those windows and mirrors

It’s surprising how many people hit the road in snowy or cold conditions with reduced visibility thanks to misted or icy windows. This is not smart at all.

In these tricky conditions, visibility is especially important, allowing you to react more smoothly to changing road scenarios.

Reduced visibility will make following the above advice harder. And let us tell you, in slippery conditions, the last thing you need is an added challenge.

Take the four-wheel drive

If you’re lucky enough to have a four-wheel-drive car, it will be much better-equipped to deal with slippery roads than your average car.

It's not as simple as that; a four-wheel drive car on cheap, summer-focused tyres might not actually have more grip than a two-wheel drive car on new snow tyres.

But like-for-like, four-wheel drive naturally provides a key advantage in boosting control. Still, the above advice remains the same.

Be safe out there!

Learn more about winter driving: