Tips for driving in snow

When driving in snow, gentle manoeuvres are the key to safe driving. Use all of the car’s controls – accelerator, brakes, clutch and steering – as gently (and progressively) as possible. Stopping distances are 10 times longer in ice and snow, so here are some more tips on safe driving:

  • Select second gear when pulling away, easing your foot off the clutch gently to avoid a wheel spin.
  • Try to maintain a constant speed.
  • To avoid having to change gear while climbing a hill, choose the most suitable gear in advance.
  • To prevent skidding, choose third or fourth gear when driving downhill.
  • Always apply your brakes gently.
  • Release them and de-clutch if the car skids.

What else should I do?


  • Ask yourself: is my journey really necessary?
  • Tell someone at your destination what time you expect to arrive.
  • Make sure that your car is well-maintained.
  • Plan your route carefully.
  • Check the latest weather forecast.
  • Keep a full petrol tank (during bad snow storms it may be necessary to turn back or change routes).
  • Keep your windscreen and windows clear. Keep an ice-scraper handy, and use the car defroster or a clean cloth to keep the windows free of mist.

What does gritting the roads do?

If the roads have not been gritted, the first fall of snow is very dangerous. Once gritted, there should be enough grip for careful driving. However, when snow becomes compacted and refrozen overnight then the greatest care must be taken. Ungritted roads will become impassable by most vehicles and even gritted surfaces can remain extremely slippery.

What’s the TEN seconds golden rule?

When driving in snow or ice, always allow more distance between your vehicle and the vehicle ahead. At least TEN seconds.

What should I wear?

Wear comfortable, dry shoes; snow-covered boots are liable to slip on the pedals, and can be cumbersome.

What should I have with me?

Carry an ice-scraper, de-icer, hot flask, food, blanket and (as part of your breakdown kit) a warning triangle and torch. Membership of a breakdown service is also advised. Also, pack some spare clothes and your mobile phone. It’s a good idea to pre-load your phone with relevant numbers, such as those of local emergency services.

What if I get stuck?

Whatever you do, don’t continue to spin your wheels; you’ll just find yourself in a deeper rut. Instead:

  • Straighten the steering.
  • If possible, pour sand, salt or gravel around the drive wheels to give them something to grab onto and improve traction.
  • Put a sack or old rug/carpet in front of the driving wheels – again to give the tyres some grip.
  • To clear a pathway, shovel snow away from the wheels and out from under the car.
  • To prevent piled-up snow from falling onto your windscreen and obscuring your view, clear snow from the roof as well as from windows.

What if my vehicle skids?

Don’t use the brakes. Ease off the accelerator and steer slightly into the direction of the skid until you gain control. Turn with steady motions.

What if I drive an automatic car?

Under normal driving conditions (motorways, etc.) it’s best to select ‘Drive’ and let the gearbox do the work through the full gear range. In slippery snowy conditions, select ‘2’ to make driving much safer by limiting the gear changes and making you less reliant on the brakes. Many modern automatics have a ‘Winter’ mode which locks out first gear to reduce the risk of wheel spin.

Some final tips…

  • Keep to main roads as they are more likely to be gritted and will be patrolled by police.
  • Never let other speeding drivers lull you into a false sense of security.
  • Only drive as fast as conditions allow.
  • Don’t try to overtake.
  • If local conditions are particularly bad, be prepared to wait a little longer for assistance from the breakdown organisations, as cases have to be prioritised.