Britain is famous for its radical weather changes and torrential downpours. For those of you that are learning to drive or are already qualified, this might have been the reason you started, whether it’s to stop walking in the rain or to no longer have to sit ice cold at the bus stop. Nevertheless, driving in harsh weather conditions can be dangerous, so we have broken down each weather condition, so that you know you are driving safely and legally.
Before you tackle the weather.
Bad weather conditions can make the most confident drivers nervous, as it creates a real challenge and can, in some cases, cause accidents. When embarking on a journey, you should consider applying the following steps beforehand.
- Pack for the worst – keeping a little bag at the back of your car in case something happens is a safety measure that anyone driving in dangerous conditions should adhere to: including things like a blanket, shovel, phone charger, torches, map, warning triangle, water and a first aid kit. The AA provide a survival kit checklist.
- Leave more time – being late makes you rush, so avoid at all costs, as rushing and driving safely do not mix. You will also need enough time to de-ice your car and the added minutes on your journey for driving slower.
- Plan your journey – Always plan and make sure you pick the safest route. Look for road closures, weather warnings, avoid areas prone to the elements and keep updated on traffic news.
- Check your Tyres – When driving, poor tyres will not grip onto the road in the snow and rain. The legal limit for a car thread depth is 1.6mm, most people make sure there tyres are around 3mm – you can find how to check your tyres here.
- Refill Screen wash – make sure to top up on your screen wash and that the screen wash you choose to use does not freeze below -35 degrees.
What should I know before driving in the snow?
We created a poll around which weather conditions made drivers the most anxious, and with 2274 participants, the snow took the lead with 35%. The fear around driving in the snow isn’t always the snow itself but the added ice, and slush that comes alongside it. Unsurprisingly, as the faster you drive, the longer it will take for you to stop and react.
Always check the latest weather forecast, adjust your journey, and try to keep on main roads as much as you can. Avoid steep hills and higher ground areas where conditions are naturally worse, and make sure you de-ice your windscreen, as an iced-up windscreen can lead to a £100 fine for obscured vision.
Subsequently, when you start your journey, moving off in second gear will help reduce wheel slip – if your car has winter mode, this will automatically do this for you. Nowadays, the majority of cars have winter mode. If yours does a light should appear on your dashboard, which is usually a snowflake or ‘W’. Your car manual should explain how to turn it on.
When driving safely in the snow, generally, you need to keep your speed down and brake earlier than you usually would on a snow-free day. Depending on the speed, you should aim to break when you’re around ten cars away from the vehicle in front – this is why it’s so important to keep to a safe speed and keep a great distance from the vehicle in front of you.
If you do start to skid, it’s important to keep a hold of the steering wheel and not to slam the brakes. Instead, lightly steer into it, for example, if the rear of your car is sliding to the left, start to slowly steer to the left.
When you’re heading towards a bend, start to brake before you steer the site when you’re heading towards a bend, start to brake before you steer the steering wheel. If your car does lose grip, as hard as it is, try not to panic and take your foot off the accelerator while making sure your wheels are pointing in the direction you want to go in.
Remember to leave plenty of room when heading uphill and try to remain in the same gear at a constant speed. That being said, when driving downhill, you should continue to leave plenty of space but remain in low gear.
If the weather worsens and your visibility gets harder, specifically if you can’t see further than 100m in front, turn your fog lights on, but remember to turn them off when the weather conditions improve.
When driving safely, you need to be aware of what’s happening around you. There will be shaded areas where the snow/ice hasn’t melted and areas prone to black ice. Remain calm, manage your speed, and you’ll have tackled the snow in no time. It’s important to note, no matter how safe your driving is, if the snow is exceptionally unfavourable, only drive if it is an emergency.
No UK Law states you can’t drive with snow on your vehicle. However, when driving safely you must be able to see out of every glass panel in your car – this is a legal requirement supported by the Road Traffic Act 1998, where it is illegal to not have a clear view before you set off.
Tips for driving in the snow.
- It might be worth changing to winter tyres if it is often snowy where you live.
- Be aware when you drive on tracks on a road that is not gritted, they are prone to be more slippery.
- Sunglasses can help deal with the glare from the snow.
- Keep your car clean as the salt used to de-ice roads can cause corrosion.
What about black ice?
When people mention black ice, they’re referring to the thin layer of ice that forms on roads, which is very thin, slippery and transparent. Due to its transparency, it is often undetectable, which is why it is so dangerous. If you’re driving and spot some excessive shine in a particular spot on the road, or if you see cars swerving for no reason, it might be an indication of black ice. Be particularly cautious when driving safely on quiet roads, shaded stretches of road, tunnels, bridges and flyovers.
Although black ice is hard to spot, when you encounter black ice, do not hit the brakes (especially with force), maintain your speed and keep the steering wheel straight. Avoid any sudden movements, but use your gears to slow down if needed.
And what about hail stone?
Hail is more dangerous to drive in than you might think, it can leave visible damage to your car, and it can harm you too. In extreme hailstorms, hail has been known to completely break car windows, which is why, if the hail is severe, your best bet will most likely be to pull over somewhere sheltered – aim for an underpass or hard shoulder. If you aren’t able to pull over, reduce your speed so the impact of the hail will not be as harsh on your windscreen.
When I’m driving in the fog, what do I need to know?
When driving safely in foggy weather, the biggest challenge you will face is your vision. Sometimes the fog can be so overwhelming that you can only see a couple of metres ahead. Fog lights are extra lights on both the front and rear, specifically designed to make it easier to see and to be seen.
Fog lights are designed to cut through the fog, unlike standard headlights, fog lights illuminate the road underneath the fog to reduce the glare. Regular headlights are mounted higher on the front of the car and aren’t angled downwards; this will cause a glare when foggy, which will be the time to use your fog lights. It is the law that all cars have rear fog lights, but many have front fog lights.
When should you use fog lights? The Highway Code states that you must use headlights if you cannot see more than 100m in front of you. Furthermore, you must turn your fog lights off when visibility improves to stop dazzling over drivers, or you could be faced with a fixed fine of £30 as the glare will affect others driving safely – this fine can also apply for not having your fog lights on when needed.
Remember to be aware of drivers not using fog lights, and don’t rely on automatic lights as these are designed to be light-sensitive – so may not change if it’s bright.
No, your fog lights should not be in use if it is clear. If your headlights are broken, you need to get them fixed straight away.
Front fog lights are not a legal requirement – some cars don’t even have them. That being said, rear fog lights are required by law, and if your front lights are broken, you should look into getting them fixed as soon as you can, as it’s not safe to drive with broken lights.
Tips for driving in the fog
- Allow extra room to brake.
- Open your window to listen to traffic.
- Remember to check your mirrors before you slow down.
How do you drive safely drive in heavy rain?
According to the MET Office, 9 out of 10 weather related deaths and serious injuries on the roads took place in the rain. Driving safely in a heavy rainstorm is a concern that almost every driver has had, and with these statistics, there’s no surprise. So how do you drive safely in the rain?
Rain increases the chances of skidding, but more alarmingly, it only takes 12 inch deep water to completely lift you and your vehicle from the surface. So the first thing you want to do is to remove any routes that are prone to flooding from your journey, if you can’t, we have the following tips, Check your mobile app store, as there numerous apps out there to help you plan your journey!
Like other dangerous weather conditions, you need to reduce your speed to give you a higher chance to react to skidding or other unexpected hazards. Wet roads do make vehicles slide, and in the colder months will most likely turn to ice.
If you do come up to some water, slow down and drive in low gear to avoid your car from stalling, you can use the edge of the curb to estimate how deep the water is. That being said, it may not always be accurate as there are potholes, and some roads don’t have curbs.
It’s important to note if the rain is particularly bad, it might be worth waiting and drive when the worst has passed and to avoid flooded areas. Flooded water might seem shallow, but the public is advised to avoid it and the hazardous things it might contain (which can cause serious damage to your car).
The simple answer is no. If you drive through water that’s over a foot and stall, you could risk getting water into your engine, which will be an expensive fix and in some cases, water damage has led to cars having to be scrapped completely. So avoid!
If the rain is so heavy that you’re struggling to see, even with your wipers on, you should pull over somewhere safe until the rain calms down. If you’re unable to see you’re more likely to cause an accident.
Aquaplaning tends to happen when you’re at a higher speed, where water will build in front of the tyre and essentially lift your tyre from the road surface. For example:
Tips for driving in the rain.
- Don’t overlook wet leaves! They may seem pretty harmless, but your car can skid on wet leaves just like ice.
- Test your wipers – make sure they’re functioning properly before you start your journey.
- Drive on the highest section of road (if you can).
- Keep both hands on the wheel.
Is there anything I need to know about driving in the wind?
An unexpected gust of wind is sure to make you uneasy, and in the UK, it’s a pretty common feeling. On a windy day, you’re likely to get a sudden gust of wind while driving, whether that’s because you’re by the coast or passing over a bridge or even through a gap in a hedge. You may even see branches falling down, or whole trees falling over – a common sight on country roads. So how do you tackle this?
If you are in serve windy conditions, avoid driving as much as possible, so decide whether your journey is necessary – this is even more important for motorcyclists. Waiting until the wind has calmed does not only decrease the chances of you swerving into someone else’s path but reduces the chances of someone swerving into yours.
If you do have to tackle the wind, then make sure you check where the safest route is by the following advice from local news sources. If you can, avoid routes that are particularly prone for intense wind, for example, a high open mountain road. Try not to leave yourself exposed, if you’re driving fast and on a wide road you’re going to be more receptive to the wind, so keep both hands on the wheel and stay alert.
High winds can get under a car and affect the braking and handling drastically. If you reduce your speed, you reduce the impact of these gusts. You may find that this makes the gusts a little less daunting.
When it comes to overtaking, be extra careful, especially past high sided vehicles (these are vehicles over 2.9m), this is due to the gust from the side as you clear past. In general, you should allow more room between you and other road users, especially when you’re near cyclists, motorcyclists, lorries, trailers and buses as they are particularly susceptible to being moved by high winds.
Furthermore, hold your steering wheel firmly but not too tight. A common mistake when driving in harsh weather conditions is gripping the steering wheel too tightly. No matter what, a gust of wind will be unexpected, and holding the wheel too tight will only restrict your movement. So keep to a strong grip so that you remain in full control, but allow yourself to have a smooth range of motion.
For your own safety, it may be best to pull over somewhere safe and just wait until the conditions improve.
When stormy winds reach 60mph, it can be extremely dangerous and it’s best to avoid driving completely, as driving safely will be significantly harder.
Tips for driving in the wind.
- Make sure you park your car in a safe place – ideally somewhere with shelter.
- Try to avoid debris left on the road.
- Keep your speed down (safely & legally).
- Keep both hands on the wheel.
Should I be aware of anything around driving in the intense sun/heat?
On the days we do get sunlight, you want to make sure you drive with a pair of sunglasses. Some people keep a pair in their car, so that they always have them in case the sunlight is glaring into their eyes. Don’t underestimate the sun, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a nice day either. When the sun comes out on a rainy/snowy day, the sun will reflect a bright beam into your eyes, which evidently will affect your vision, which will ultimately affect driving safely. Keeping more space between you and other drivers will help keep you safer when you’re struggling to see because of the glare.
When it comes to overheating, allow air to circulate when you’re in the vehicle by opening windows or turning on your aircon. Never leave pets in a hot car. Although the act itself is not illegal, you are legally responsible for the welfare of your animal, so if your pet was to become ill, or worse die, you may be charged for animal cruelty.
Need some extra practice?
Learning to drive in these conditions can be a challenge, but it is important to practice driving in them. This is why our learner driver insurance does not have curfews – so you can learn at a time that suits you.