Last Updated on January 10, 2023

We created a poll around which weather conditions made drivers the most anxious, and with 2,274 participants, ‘Driving in the snow’ took the lead with 35% (see Fig 1 below). The fear around driving in the snow isn’t always the snow itself, but the added ice and slush that comes with it. What won’t come as a surprise, is that the faster you drive, the longer it takes for your vehicle to come to a stop.

Worst Weather Condition to drive in results
Fig 1. Results of the ‘worst weather conditions to drive in’ poll.

Always plan your journey carefully if snow and ice are forecast. Pay particular notice to weather and traffic reports before you leave and check that no roads are closed that you plan to travel on.

The Highway Code advises, before you set off in snowy weather, always carry out a few basic vehicle checks. Ensure you clear your car of snow and ice, and that all windows are thoroughly de-misted. Braking can dislodge melted snow from the roof of your car, causing it to slip down over your windscreen, obscuring your view. Snow and ice can also break away from your vehicle when you are driving, potentially causing a hazard to other road users or pedestrians. Also, always ensure that your vehicle’s lights are clear of snow and are in good working order, and that your number plates are clean and visible.

When driving, remember that although main roads may be salted and gritted, smaller roads may not be. Use extra caution when turning off main roads onto smaller roads as there may be a change in the surface that could catch you out.

Remember, if snow has fallen after a thaw and cold snap, the snow could be lying on top of black ice.

Try to avoid steep hills and higher ground areas where conditions could be significantly worse.

When you start your journey, moving off in second gear can help reduce wheel slip. If you drive an automatic, your car may have a Winter Mode which will activate automatically and help reduce wheel slip, your car manual should explain how Winter Mode works.

Some cars also have outside temperature monitoring which can alert you to the possibility of ice; this is usually displayed on your dashboard when you start the car, or when the temperature drops below 3 degrees C.

Parked Car Covered in Snow
Parked car covered in snow

When driving in the snow, you need to keep your speed down and brake much earlier than you usually would on a snow-free day. Remember – the Highway Code advises that braking on snow and ice can be up to ten times longer than on a dry road.

Most newer cars are equipped with active driver aids such as ABS and ESP/STC which try to help you retain control in emergency situations, however always remember that they will only work up to a point.

As a learner, or newly qualified driver, it’s possible that you won’t have experienced the assistance ABS and ESP/STC provide, until driving in snow and ice. ABS is designed to allow you to retain the ability to steer when braking, and ESP/STC is designed to stop the car sliding from side to side by braking individual wheels or adjusting throttle inputs for you automatically.

When approaching a corner, always try to ensure you’re braking in a straight line before reaching the corner, as in poor conditions, there is only so much grip available to the front wheels, and asking for too much braking and steering at the same time can exceed the available grip, causing you to skid and possibly lose control.

If your car begins to slide sideways, keep hold of the steering wheel and don’t slam on the brakes. Instead, lightly steer into the slide to try to neutralise it. For example, if the rear of your car is sliding to the left, start to steer to the left. As the car begins to straighten back out, straighten the wheel – the aim is to keep the front wheels pointing in the direction you want the car to go at all times.

Remember to leave plenty of separation from the car in front of you when driving uphill; try to remain in the same gear at a constant speed and always be aware of the potential of having to carry out a hill start.

Driving downhill is similar, you should continue to leave plenty of space and remain in a low gear.

If the weather worsens and your visibility reduces, specifically to less than 100m, then The Highway Code states that you must turn your headlights on and you may turn your fog lights on, but remember that you must turn fog lights off when the weather conditions improve, and visibility is greater than 100m.

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.

COAST is a useful acronym to remember the five elements of driving safely:

ConcentrationAlways give driving your full attention, concentrate on the road and your surroundings.
ObservationAlways be aware of what and who is around you.
AnticipationTry to anticipate the actions of other road users; it’s possible they haven’t seen you.
SpaceAlways try to give yourself space to react to potential hazards on the road.
TimeGive yourself plenty of time to react to road conditions, especially in poor weather.

Remember, no matter how safe your driving is – if the conditions are exceptionally bad, only drive if it is an emergency.

Is it legal to drive with snow on my car?

There is no specific law referring to snow on your car, however, when driving on the road you must be able to see out of every glass panel in your car as per the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986. Failure to do so could leave you liable to prosecution under Section 41D of the Road Traffic Act 1998.

If snow or ice breaks off your car, it could injure a pedestrian or other road user. This could leave you liable to prosecution under Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1998 or Section 40A of the Road Traffic Act 1998.

Can I learn to drive in the snow while covered by Collingwood Learner Insurance?

Yes, although we do recommend checking there are no weather warnings in your area. You can use The Met Office for a quick check on UK weather warnings.

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Our friends at Uniroyal provide some fantastic information on winter tyres, including:

  • Consider purchasing a set of winter wheels and tyres. Summer tyre compounds can harden when the road temperature is below 7 degrees Celsius, but winter tyre compounds remain pliable at low temperatures. Despite their name, they are not only used in snow and ice!
  • Be aware when you drive in other vehicle’s tyre tracks on a road that is not gritted, the compacted snow could provide less grip than powdered snow.
  • 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 extremely slippery and pretty much invisible. Due to its transparency, it is often undetectable, which is why it is so dangerous.

Black ice on road

If you’re driving and spot an excessively shiny section of road, or if you notice other cars getting into difficulty, 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.

A tell-tale sign of being over black ice is that your tyres will go quiet – the usual road noise will not be apparent.

Although black ice is hard to spot, if you do encounter it, try not to hit the brakes (especially with force) – maintain your speed and keep the steering wheel straight. Avoid any sudden steering inputs, and use your gears to slow down if needed.

And what about hail stones?

Hail is more dangerous to drive in than you might think, it can leave visible damage to your car, and if you’re caught out in it, it can cause personal injury as well. In extreme storms, hail has been known to shatter car windows and dent large car panels such as the bonnet and roof.

If the hail is severe; you would be best advised pulling over somewhere sheltered. If you aren’t able to pull over, reduce your speed and drive with caution.

Need some extra practice?

Learning to drive in these conditions can be a challenge, but it is important to practice driving in them. That’s why our learner driver insurance doesn’t have any curfews – so you can learn at a time that suits you.

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