Safe driving in winter
There's more to winter than just snow, so on this page you'll find tips and advice on driving in all winter weathers including: heavy rain, flooding, high winds, and of course, snow and ice.
What do our gritter drivers advise?
Despite our efforts to make roads safe during winter, icy or snowy weather can make venturing out on the county's roads a treacherous experience.
We asked our gritting teams about driving safely in snow and icy conditions and they have given their advice on:
- Clearing your drive
- Preparing your car
- Driving to the conditions
- What to do if you get stranded
- Video: Advice from inside the gritting depot
Clearing your drive
- clear the snow and ice early. It's easier to move fresh, loose snow than hard snow, so if possible, start removing the snow and ice early,
- if you remove the top layer of snow in the morning, any sunshine during the day will help melt any ice beneath. You can then cover the path with salt before night time to stop it refreezing overnight,
- use salt or sand - not water. If you use water to melt the snow, it may refreeze and turn to black ice - which is invisible and very slippery,
- you can use ordinary table or dishwasher salt - a tablespoon for each square metre you clear should work,
- if you don't have enough salt, you can also use sand or ash. These won't stop the path icing over as effectively as salt, but will provide good grip underfoot,
- be careful not to spread salt on plants or grass as it may damage them.
Preparing your car
Preparing your car for driving in snow and ice can make all the difference.
- give yourself an extra 10 minutes to de-ice your car,
- plan your route to work - use the online gritting routes map - and make sure you have a road atlas in your car,
- check your fuel levels – keep at least a quarter of a tank in case you get stuck in traffic,
- clear all windows using a scraper and de-icer – don’t drive off with a tiny hole cleared in the windscreen,
- use a lighter to warm a key for a frozen lock,
- clear snow from the roof – it can fall onto the windscreen and block your view or fly off onto the car behind,
- plan routes to favour major roads, which are more likely to be cleared and gritted.
Driving to the conditions
- pull away in second gear, and ease your foot off the clutch gently to avoid wheel-spin,
- use the highest gear possible to avoid wheel spin whilst maintaining appropriate speed,
- use car visors and reduce speeds in the event of being dazzled by winter sun.
- wait until it’s clear so you don’t have to stop half way up,
- try not to change gear on the hill, and keep your speed constant.
- slow down before the hill, use a low gear and try to avoid braking,
- Leave as much room as you can to the car in front.
- if you have to use your brakes, apply them gently,
- get into a low gear earlier than normal when braking on ice or snow, allow the vehicle’s speed to fall and use the brake pedal gently to avoid the wheels locking,
- ease off the accelerator but do not brake suddenly if skidding occurs,
- reduce speed and allow extra space to slow down – it can take ten times longer to stop in icy conditions than on a dry road.
What to do if you get stranded
- if you do get stuck, clear the snow from the wheels and put a sack or old rug in front of the driving wheels to give them some grip.
- help our gritters and emergency services get through to keep the roads clear - if you're forced to abandon your car, make sure you leave it as close to the side of the road as you can.
Driving through water incorrectly could cause serious damage to your car and could put your life at risk. We’ve put together some top tips for driving during flooding:
- never drive through water if you're not sure how deep it is as this could result in your car becoming stranded,
- if you do drive through a large puddle of water, look out for objects which may cause damage to your car wheels, tyres or suspension while doing so,
- keep your car in a low gear and engine revs up to help you maintain momentum
- don't drive through water quickly as this can create bow waves which may lead to further property flooding
- always check your brakes after driving through water
Driving during high winds can be hazardous, and you should consider whether your journey is essential. If you are driving in windy conditions, we've put together some tips on how to stay safe while doing so.
- drive slowly to reduce the impact of the high winds on your car,
- prepare yourself when approaching exposed areas of road,
- take care when overtaking, especially high sided vehicles,
- hold the steering wheel firmly,
- give cyclists, motorcyclists, lorries and buses more room than usual,
- keep an eye on what is happening to other vehicles,
- keep extra distance between you and the car in front,
- avoid parking under trees, near buildings, telephone lines or other structures that could represent a falling-danger in severe winds
When driving during periods of heavy rain, you should always make safety checks on your vehicle before setting off, such as checking your wiper blades and your tyres. Once you set off, you should:
- slow down. Reduce your speed and leave more space between you and the vehicle in front as stopping distances in rain are increased
- use dipped headlights so that other drivers can see you more easily
- don’t use rear fog lights. They can mask your brake lights and dazzle drivers behind you
- look out for large or fast-moving vehicles creating spray which reduces visibility
- keep your air conditioning on, as this will stop your windows from misting up
- listen out for local news bulletins to keep up-to-date with road closures, flooding and forecasts
- if you break down in torrential rain keep the bonnet closed while waiting for help to arrive, to avoid the electrical system getting soaked
- driving too fast through standing water could lead to tyres losing contact with the road. If your steering suddenly feels light you could be aquaplaning. To regain grip, ease off the accelerator, do not brake and allow your speed to reduce until you gain full control of the steering again
- be considerate to other road users and try not to spray pedestrians and cyclists as you drive through water
- Use dipped headlights, wipers and demisters.
- Use fog lights when you need to.
- Beware of other drivers not using headlights.
- Only drive as fast as conditions allow.
- Slow down so you can stop in the distance you can see clearly.
- Allow three seconds instead of two between you and the car in front.
- Check your mirrors before you slow down.
- Open your window to listen for traffic at junctions if you can’t see.
As a pedestrian, do your own winter maintenance check, ensuring that you:
- make sure other road users can see you
- wear or carry something light coloured, bright or fluorescent in poor daylight
- use reflective materials when it is dark, which will show up in car headlights. Reflective materials can be seen up to three times as far away as non-reflective materials
- use pedestrian crossing facilities where they are available
- if no pedestrian facilities are available then cross near to a street light if possible
- make sure that your footwear has a good tread, to avoid slipping.