Winter driving – Road handling tips from IAM RoadSmart

Blog post posted on 03/02/21 |

Winter brings difficult driving conditions with frost, ice and snow all adversely affecting road conditions and vehicle handling. So, for those making essential journeys during coronavirus travel restrictions, Richard Gladman, IAM RoadSmart’s Head of Driving and Riding Standards, has these top tips to help stay safe during sub-zero conditions.

  • If the weather conditions are severe in your area, you should note local police advice and avoid travelling where advised. However, in exceptional circumstances when you must go out, then drive with extra caution. Stick to the major routes as they will be more likely to have been treated.
  • Substantially increase the stopping distance between you and the vehicle ahead, and approach every junction intending to stop well before the stop or give way line. According to advice from the Highway Code, it can take up to 10 times as long to stop in icy conditions.
  • Every steering, acceleration or braking input should be as smooth and gentle as possible. Using second gear when you pull away in icy conditions will deliver less torque and may prevent wheels spinning.
  • Salt will often make the windscreen, headlights, number plate and the rear of your car very dirty. Cars without headlamp washers, for example, will lose an estimated 40% of their lighting power and possibly all their focus after travelling c. 20 miles on a damp, gritted motorway. So when travelling long distances, stop regularly at service stations to clean your windscreen and headlights with a clean cloth. Alternatively, keep a filled bottle of water in the boot to give your lights, windows and mirrors a quick clean. Top up your washer fluid regularly during the winter and on long journeys.
  • Never ignore any warning lights that appear on your dashboard. If one appears, get it checked out as soon as possible. Being stuck on the side of the road is annoying at the best of times, but breaking down in freezing conditions is not only uncomfortable it can also be risky.
  • Always carry a winter driving kit including the following:
    • Ice scraper
    • De-icer
    • Blanket
    • Torch
    • Shovel
    • Something to eat and drink
    • A fully charged mobile phone
    • A reflective triangle
    • High visibility jacket(s) – with enough for every car occupant travelling with you.
  • When driving on a busy road, avoid overtaking a gritting lorry as the road ahead might not have been treated yet. If you have any doubt, don’t risk it. And never overtake a snow plough in heavy snow conditions.
  • While roads may have been gritted to give you better traction, some areas of the road may not be fully treated, which can leave icy patches. Drive at a steady pace, with your safety and that of your passengers in mind. Be prepared to slow down even more at roundabouts and junctions. Watch out for water running across the carriageway, as this might have washed away the salt or diluted it, making it ineffective.
  • Keep your car clean throughout the winter as the salt in any grit that is left on it for long periods of time may cause corrosion to any exposed parts. Wash and rinse alloy wheels too - the smallest scratch on these can cause damage.
  • On bright but cold days, don’t assume the roads are safe just because the winter sun is out. Icy patches can linger, including in shaded or tree-lined areas, or places where the sun has yet to have had an impact.
  • If you do have to make an essential journey, check your tyres for tread depth and condition before setting off. Remember that whilst the legal limit is 1.6mm, wet weather performance deteriorates below 3mm, so consider changing at this point for added safety. Read TyreSafe’s advice check here if you need further information.

Richard said: “Preparation is the key to avoiding a dangerous situation whilst driving in snowy or icy conditions. Don’t rely on the performance of your car systems to get you out of trouble – allow time, make sure you have good visibility all round and carry the right equipment. If conditions are extreme remember the best advice is not to travel.”