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Driving safely in the winter

Driving in winter can be unpredictable and dangerous. Weather conditions can change very quickly, making normal driving unsafe. However, you needn’t lock yourself in over the winter months. As long as you take the right steps to prepare, and respect the roads while driving, it’s perfectly possible to keep to your normal routine. 

This guide tells you all you need to know about winter driving, how best to prepare for and drive on winter roads, and what you can do to ensure you’re insured.

In This Guide:

Preparing to drive in winter

There’s plenty you can do to help you stay safe when driving in winter. Here are some of the things you can do before getting in your car:

  • Make sure you know exactly where you’re going. Inclement winter weather can change the look of roads, even when you think they’re familiar. Keep an eye out for any traffic updates and stick to more main roads where possible – these are more likely to be gritted in the case of snow and ice. It’s also a good idea to switch on radio updates while driving. You may want to prepare alternative routes in the case of bad traffic or weather.
  • Check the forecast. Conditions change fast in winter. To help you prepare for your journey, make sure you know what weather you’ll come up against. If it’s not looking good, make sure you’ve got the right kit and that you’ve allowed extra time for your journey.
  • Get an emergency winter breakdown kit. Here are a few of the essentials:
    • Phone Charger
    • Spare food and drink
    • Warm clothes and blankets
    • De-icer and ice scraper
    • Reflective warning sign & hi-vis vest
    • Torch
    • Shovel
    • Starter Cables
    • First-aid kit

Preparing your car for winter driving

You should always keep your car regularly serviced to make sure it’s as safe as possible. Here are a few other things you can do to make sure your car is ready for winter.

  • Lights: Fog, rain and snow can seriously affect visibility in the winter. Lights can go a long way to helping with this, so you should make sure they are all working. It can be hard to tell, so get someone to help you assess all of your lights. 
  • Tyres: When roads get wet or icy, your car’s grip will decrease hugely. This means your stopping distance is much longer and driving, in general, is far more dangerous, making accidents more likely. The best option is to invest in winter tyres; however, these can be expensive, and you could instead get snow chains. Remember the legal minimum tread depth is 1.6mm, but the AA recommends 2 or 3mm, especially in wintry conditions. You should also keep an eye on your tyre pressure. Cold conditions can decrease the pressure, making them less safe to drive on. You should aim to keep your tyres at the manufacturer’s recommended pressure.
  • Battery: Cold conditions can affect your battery, making it less efficient and more likely to die. Try to use your radio and heater as little as possible to avoid sudden breakdowns.
  • Visibility: Make sure you have scraped your windscreen and given it time to warm through to avoid it fogging up and reducing your visibility. Always keep the anti-freeze in your screen wash topped up.

Insurance for winter driving

If the weather is particularly bad, forecasters may issue a red weather warning. This warns of extreme conditions. However, the world doesn’t have to grind to a halt. Most comprehensive car insurance will cover you to drive even when a red warning has been issued. Whilst you should always make an assessment for yourself as to whether you feel confident to drive, you shouldn’t let the issue of insurance hold you back. It is, however, always worth checking the terms and conditions of your car insurance policy if you are at all unsure. 

Comprehensive and third-party car insurance will also cover you in the event of an incident that causes damage to someone else’s car.

You should also make sure that you have breakdown cover. Whilst it’s always important to have this, it is particularly essential in winter, as there is a higher likelihood of breaking down.

How to drive safely in winter

The main advice for anyone driving in winter is quite simply to drive slower than normal. In fact, you should drive a lot slower than normal. In wet conditions, stopping distances are doubled, and in icy conditions, they can be up to ten times further than normal. Then there is the problem of decreased grip and reduced handling.

In wet and snowy conditions, a lot of spray tends to come off the roads, affecting visibility. It’s a good idea to keep your windscreen wipers going, even when it isn’t actually raining or snowing.

Ice can be hard to see, or even invisible, and local authorities can often miss smaller roads when gritting. As a general rule, higher gears are safer. Setting off in second rather than first can avoid wheel spin, for example. Whilst you should accelerate slowly, using the highest gear possible once at speed will help you maximise your control.

Skidding around corners is one of the most common causes of accidents in icy conditions. To avoid skidding, apply your brakes before turning the wheel to navigate around bends. If you do start to skid, don’t panic and slam on the brakes. Instead, apply the brakes very gently and steer into the direction of the skid, not away from it, to regain control.

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