Storm Doris – the fourth named storm of this winter – is forecast to bring significant snowfall and high winds to Scotland and possibly parts of northern England today. The Met Office had issued a yellow “be aware” warning for most of Scotland and an amber “be prepared” warning for parts of England and Wales.
While snowfall can make for picturesque wintry landscapes, it’s always a worry if you have to venture out in your car. The best advice for driving in snowy conditions is… don’t. In other words, if your journey isn’t absolutely necessary, put it off until the conditions improve. But if you have to drive in the snow, there’s a lot you can do to prepare your car, yourself and to make sure you arrive safely at your destination.
The first thing is to plan your journey carefully. Stick to main roads that are more likely to be gritted, well used and clear of snow and ice, even if it means going the long way round. Avoid high level routes where the weather could be worse, and keep up-to-date with the latest news on local weather and traffic conditions.
You should also leave more time for your journey, so if you have to be somewhere at a particular time, plan to leave much earlier than usual. It could take 10 minutes just to clear your car windows, lights, mirrors and roof before even setting off. Failure to do so could mean you’re driving unsafely, and illegally. Also, make sure your wipers are turned off before you switch on the ignition. If they are frozen to the windscreen it could blow the wiper control fuse.
Check your tyres are in good condition before you set off. If you live in an area where snow is common it could be worth switching to winter tyres, or investing in a set of snow chains. Check your screenwash too – that there’s plenty of it and it’s not frozen. You’ll need to use it more often to clear your windscreen in wintry conditions.
Hope for the best, but plan for the worst when setting out in snow. In other words, pack your car with the things you might need if you do get stuck. These include a torch (with new batteries or wind-up variety), a hi-vis vest, a blanket, warm clothes, some food and a hot drink, spare screenwash, de-icer, ice scraper, first aid kit, warning triangle, jump leads, a shovel, and a square of carpet to put under your drive wheels for traction.
Most importantly, take a fully charged mobile phone with the number of your breakdown cover provider stored in it. If you aren’t already a member of a breakdown organisation – such as the RAC, AA, or Green Flag – it’s well worth considering. Some insurance policies include breakdown cover – check yours.
As for actually driving in the snow, there are several things to consider. First, wear sensible shoes that won’t slip off the pedals. Accelerate gently, using low revs, and change up to a higher gear as soon as possible. High revs could cause wheelspin. Move off in second gear, as this should also help prevent wheelspin. Once moving, try to maintain a steady speed and leave a safe gap between you and the vehicle in front, much larger than you would do in normal driving conditions.
Plan well ahead so you never need to brake or accelerate sharply. You need to do everything gently when driving in slow, and that requires considerable forethought. When approaching a bend, brake gently before you reach it to reduce your speed before you start to turn. Use low gears when going downhill and try to avoid braking unless necessary.
If your car does lose grip the key thing is not to panic or stamp on the brakes. Just take your foot off the accelerator and make sure your wheels are pointing in the direction you want to go. If you start to skid, steer gently into the skid, so if the rear of the car is moving to the right, steer gently to the right. Again, do not stamp on the brake or let go of the steering wheel.
Use dipped headlights when driving in snow and if the visibility gets very bad, turn on your fog lights. Wearing sunglasses can also help reduce the glare of low winter sun on snow. If the road has not been gritted, be wary of driving in the wheeltracks of previous vehicles as compressed snow is more likely to be icy than fresh snow.
Also be wary of possible ice patches. If you drive the route regularly and know of places where puddles form or water runs across the road, approach them with extra care as they are likely to be icy. Bridges are also more likely to be icy, even after the rest of the road has thawed, as they get cold from above and below.
In general, make sure everything you do – braking, accelerating, steering and changing gear – is always smooth and slow, allowing more time for all these actions.
Finally, it’s worth repeating that even if you do all the above and are confident about winter driving, the very best thing you can do is not to drive in snow at all unless you absolutely have to. Even the most experienced drivers can get caught out when the weather turns nasty.