Skip to main content

Top tips for driving in the snow and staying safe

By Ian Whittaker, a serious injury legal expert at Irwin Mitchell

We see a vast number of cases that emanate from people who have been involved in road traffic accidents due to adverse weather conditions. Those range from drivers, to cyclists and pedestrians.

The most common causes of accidents when driving in such conditions, in our experience, are excessive speed and underestimating the road conditions and the visibility of other road users.  These factors can result in accidents leading to very serious injury or even death.

What the stats show

Last year showed there were nearly 1500 people that died on UK’s roads and those stats rose to nearly 23,500 when including those that were seriously injured. Some of those killed or seriously injured were due to the weather conditions at the time.  These figures decreased compared to previous year because of the number of road users dropping considerably due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

There is a clear spike in the number of casualties in the winter months due to the weather conditions such as driving in snow and ice.

Driving at more than 5 – 10 mph on minor roads when ice and snow is present significantly increases the chance of being involved in an accident whist driving.

What should you do?

There a number of top tips that you can do to prepare yourself when you are intending to travel drive during more difficult conditions such as snow and ice.

  • Firstly, always ensure that you have sufficient breakdown cover.  If you get stranded whilst driving, you will be glad you did.

  • Always consider whether your journey is actually necessary in the first instance. If it is, always make sure you are prepared.  If it isn’t, just don’t travel.

  • Make sure that you have appropriate winter tyres fitted and that they have at least the legal tread depth.  In snow, it is better to have nearly double the legal limit of tread in your tyres.  Also check your tyre pressure and battery health.

  • Ensuring you have anti-freeze could well reduce the risks of a frozen engine. Check that your coolant and screen wash levels are correct.

  • If you have to travel, make sure you carry out checks on your car before you begin your journey.

  • Ensure that all snow is cleared from your vehicle and that there is no ice on the windows and in particular the windscreen and rear window.  Driving with poor visibility particularly on winter nights significantly increases the chances of an accident.

  • A winter kit or checklist ought to be at the forefront of your mind.  Such a kit could include de-icer, an ice scraper, a winter coat, blanket and torch together with food / drink (even if only a small amount) and of course make sure you mobile ‘phone is fully charged.

  • When driving in heavy snow, particularly on rural roads, try to drive at a “snail’s pace” and not more than 5 – 10 miles per hour.

  • Use your fog lights if appropriate.  The stats show if visibility is reduced to 100 metres, your fog lights will help other road uses in seeing you in treacherous conditions.

What you shouldn't do

  • We’ve all seen people do it but do not leave your vehicle unattended with the engine running to clear the ice and snow from your windscreen and to heat the car up.  Believe it or not, your insurance company could invalidate your insurance if your vehicle is stolen whilst the engine is running left whilst unattended.

  • It goes without saying that you should not pour boiling water on a frozen windscreen as it could crack the windscreen.

What The Highway Code Says

Section 229 of the Highway Code further states you must:

  • Be able to see, so clear all snow and ice from all your windows.

  • Ensure that lights are clean and number plates are clearly visible and legible.

  • Make sure the mirrors are clear and the windows are demisted thoroughly.

  • Remove all snow that might fall off into the path of other road users

The following two pictures taken from Rule 229 of the Highway Code clearly shows what state your windscreen should be in when driving.  Just look at how you could miss a pedestrian crossing the road!

If you are in doubt, just don’t make the journey.  If you have to, be prepared in advance.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people and families affected by collisions at our dedicated road traffic accident section.

The most common causes of accidents when driving in such conditions, in our experience, are excessive speed and underestimating the road conditions and the visibility of other road users.”