5 Highway Code tips on how to drive safely in the snow and on icy roads
From Christmas shopping to taking long journeys across the country to visit friends and family for the festive season, driving in winter poses plenty of challenges.
In fact, transporting your Christmas tree home on your car’s roof could land you with a hefty £1,000 fine as overloading your vehicle is a Highway Code no-no.
And, once you’ve tackled de-icing your windscreen on cold winter mornings, you may find your next challenge being driving on snow – or ice-covered roads.
While it can be challenging, and best avoided, we’ve got is plenty of guidance for how to drive safely on icy roads from the Highway Code.
How to drive safely in the snow according to the highway code
Though it can be tricky, and requires drivers to be completely alert to their surroundings, driving in the snow is permitted if your journey is essential.
Here’s what you need to know about the Highway Code’s guidance on driving in icy or snowy weather.
Check the weather forecast
Prior to leaving your home, or even making plans for a journey that isn’t essential, be sure to check the weather forecast locally and that of your destination’s.
According to rule 228 of the Highway Code, if the forecast warns of icy or snowy weather conditions, do not drive unless the journey is essential.
The guidance states that if you are taking an essential journey, you’ll need to prep for it by ensuring that you’ve got de-icer and a scraper with you for your windscreen and car.
You’ll also need to bring a torch, jump leads and a shovel, as well as emergency supplies for if your car gets stuck or breaks down.
Ensure your visibility is at its best from all windows and the windscreen
Rule 229 of the Highway Code states that you need to be able to see clearly from all of your windows.
Do this by allowing ample time to de-ice your windscreen and to scrape any snow from your car. You must also scrape any snow from your lights and number plate by law.
Look out for snow-covered mirrors, too, as you’ll need to be able to see all angles when driving.
Stay alert and keep a safe distance
While it may seem obvious, when driving in adverse weather conditions you need to be on high alert at all times.
And, though you always need to keep a safe distance from fellow drivers on the road, during snowy and icy weather it’s crucial to keep a far larger gap between the road user in front of you.
Rule 230 of the Highway Code also advises taking care when overtaking vehicles spreading salt or de-icer. You should also be carefukl of snow ploughs, due to the snow thrown out of them while working.
And, while one short patch of road may be clear of snow and ice, you must prepare for a potential extreme change in conditions further down.
Slow down when roads are covered in snow or ice
When driving in snowy or icy conditions, you’ll need to drive slower than usual. Rule 231 of the Highway Code states: “Drive at a slow speed in as high a gear as possible; accelerate and brake very gently.”
There is also guidance to slow down at bends where loss of control is more likely. It adds: “Brake progressively on the straight before you reach a bend.
“Having slowed down, steer smoothly round the bend, avoiding sudden actions.”
Finally, you should be cautious of how safe the surface you’re driving on is for braking gently The guidance explains: “If the steering feels unresponsive this may indicate ice and your vehicle losing its grip on the road.
“When travelling on ice, tyres make virtually no noise.”
Check your tyres
While the snowfall in most of the UK is far from the extreme conditions elsewhere in the world, your tyres may still hinder your safety.
Check to ensure your tyre tread has enough grip to keep you safe on slippery surfaces such as slushy melted snow or ice.
You can do this by popping a 20p going into a main tread groove in your tyre. If the outer border is hidden in the groove, your tyre is safe and legal to drive. If not, you’ll need to get that tyre replaced.
The legal tyre thread depth limit is 1.6mm in the UK. So, if your tyre thread is looking bald or worn-down, do the test or get them checked by professionals.
Do I need to change my tyres for the snow and icy roads?
While colder countries with much more snowfall require tyres to be changed for snow, winter tyres are not mandatory in the UK and are optional for drivers.
There are alternative ways to adapt your tyres for those who live in areas where snowfall is particularly bad.
One option is to purchase snow socks to fit over your car’s wheels. These are fabric covers that improve the grip of your wheels when driving.
Another is to fit snow chains on your tyres, but this depends on your car. They also need to be removed as soon as you get to stretches of gritted and snow-free road as this can damage both the road and your car.