Driving in winter: A complete guide

Cars driving in wet, snowy weather conditions.

Winter sparks the beginning of an exciting time of year, but it doesn’t come without its downfalls; one of which is the weather.

British weather has the reputation of being pretty terrible all year, but there’s no denying that Mother Nature ramps things up a little when November comes to call – and with the weather conditions coinciding with darker nights, it only takes a few minutes for UK roads to become hazardous.

Various questions start cropping up this time of year, such as:

  • How do you drive safe in bad weather?
  • What do you do if your car is sliding on ice?
  • Are motorways safe in the snow?

With uncertainties in mind, it’s important that we all know (or remind ourselves) how to stay safe when driving in poor weather conditions and how the weather can impact car insurance – here’s a complete guide to winter driving in the UK.

UK weather warnings

There are three levels of weather warnings in the UK: yellow, amber and red. Each of these warnings indicates the severity of either current or future poor weather conditions.

A yellow weather warning is the least severe, and indicates that adverse weather conditions could potentially impact travel plans (however, people are advised to continue their day as usual).

An amber weather warning is one step up from yellow, indicating that the weather is likely to have an impact on people’s day (including travel delays, cancellation of public transport services and power cuts).

A red weather warning is the most severe weather warning offered, indicating that there is a strong chance of damage to buildings, vehicles and roads as well as a threat to life. People are advised to stay inside whenever possible.

Red weather warning and car insurance – can inclement weather void your insurance?

What does a red weather warning mean for car insurance?

Nothing, really!

Your car insurance provider will cover you in all weather conditions, no matter how poor the visibility or how treacherous the roads.

As long as your car is fully taxed with a valid MOT and is being driven by somebody who is insured to drive it, your insurance is valid.

However, this doesn’t mean that it’s safe to drive – no matter how comprehensive your cover, your insurance will not make driving conditions any easier and, if you’ve been advised to do so, we recommend staying at home.

Is car insurance void in snow?

No – even when it’s snowing, your insurance will cover you in the event of an accident. Whether it’s safe to drive or not is ultimately at your discretion.

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Motorway driving – motorway weather warnings

Motorways are the most dangerous roads to drive on when weather conditions are poor. There are multiple reasons for this, most of which surround the fact that they are much faster roads than most others in the UK.

When travelling at high speeds, the possibility of causing an accident due to reduced visibility, aquaplaning or losing control of your car on slippery roads increases tenfold.

When driving conditions are poor, the variable speed limit on a motorway will often be reduced from 70mph down to as low as 20mph – these are not advisory and must be kept to.

What should you do when driving in heavy rain?

This isn’t an infrequent experience in the UK, so it is crucial that motorists know how to control their vehicle during a downpour.

Driving in wet weather is dangerous as the roads become slippery, meaning the time it takes to perform an emergency stop is increased. There is also a risk of aquaplaning, which is when a layer of water develops between the road surface and the wheels, leading to the vehicle becoming detached from the road and causing the driver to lose control.

Driving in heavy rain at night is even more dangerous due to the decreased visibility.

Should you pull over in heavy rain?

Of all of the tools and equipment you can use to aid your driving experience in the rain, the most important one is your head! When driving in rain, you must use common sense – if it has become too heavy for you to drive in comfortably then there is absolutely no harm to pull over where it is safe to do so.

If travelling on a motorway, avoid pulling over on the hard shoulder as (particularly when the weather is bad) you will be putting yourself, and others, at risk. Pull off at the next exit and find somewhere safe to park until the rain dies down.

What happens if you drive your car through a deep puddle?

Depending on your vehicle, driving through a deep patch of water can have different outcomes.

While a 4x4 is likely to be unfazed by a few inches of water, smaller vehicles might experience engine failure following the intake of water; this is known as ‘hydrostatic lock’.

Driving through puddles at high speeds can also cause any vehicle to aquaplane, while any pedestrians that fall victim to the splash caused by your vehicle are within their rights to report you.

Did you know?

Splashing pedestrians by driving through puddles could land motorists a fine of up to £5,000 for driving “without reasonable consideration for other persons.”

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What should you do when driving in snowy conditions?

Theory tests across Britain ask this question all of the time, but for those of us who aren’t up to scratch with our Highway Code knowledge, there are a few important things you should know.

Snow can cause multiple problems for UK road users with stopping distances up to 10 times longer than they would be on a normal day. Snow normally equals cold, too, which means if your car breaks down, you could be stuck for hours in the freezing cold.

To protect yourself against all eventualities you should ensure that, before you head off on a long journey, your car is prepared for the bad weather just as much as you are. You can do this by investing in a winter car kit – we’ve got a few tips on how to make one here.

How do you drive in the snow? - Driving in snow for the first time

If it’s your first time driving in snow, it’s not unusual to feel a little intimidated – there aren’t many things scarier than unpredictable weather!

The best, and perhaps most obvious, piece of advice we can offer is: when the roads are icy, you should drive slowly. Driving in snow and ice is a lot less dangerous when you’re driving slowly and, if you do happen to have an accident or skid on ice, the impact will be a lot weaker than it would be if driving at high speeds.

Driving uphill in snow can also be tricky. We’re sure you’ve seen plenty of ‘You’ve Been Framed’ style clips of cars slipping and sliding their way back down a steep hill, but this scenario isn’t so funny when it’s you and your vehicle is at risk.

Our best advice for driving in snow uphill is:

  1. Build some momentum on flat ground, before you reach the hill
  2. Once on the hill, don’t give too much power – this will cause the wheels to spin
  3. If you can help it, don’t stop – if you do, you’ll risk sliding back down

Is it better to turn off traction control in snow?

Many new cars come with something called ‘traction control’, which is designed to optimise the car’s grip and stability during acceleration. This means that it can help to reduce the chance of wheel spin by temporarily reducing the power given out by the engine or applying brakes to the affected wheel.

This is particularly handy when it comes to driving in snow as, when you hit a patch of ice, it will help to prevent your car from spinning out. If stuck in the snow, however, you might want to temporarily disable the traction control in your car to allow yourself that extra motion to free yourself.

Driving on ice – high or low gear?

When travelling on icy roads, you should think carefully about what gear you’re driving in.

Driving in a higher gear will give you greater control over the car, so you should aim to stay in the highest gear possible while driving in snow. When setting off, try to use second gear instead of first as this can minimise wheel spin on slippery surfaces.

Use a low gear when driving downhill to prevent having to slam on your brakes – this could cause your car to glide and potentially hit another vehicle or pedestrian.

Read more: Winter driving tips

Get a winter car check

If you’re concerned at how (or if) your car will cope this winter, get it booked in for a winter car check.

A winter car check consists of:

  • Tyre inspection (you may be offered a switch to winter tyres)
  • Battery test
  • Antifreeze/coolant top-ups
  • Windscreen wiper check
  • Lights assessment
  • Oil replenishment

You’ll be able to pay for a winter car check at any reputable garage near you – just give them a call to enquire and they should be happy to oblige.

What lights do you use in bad weather?

Many modern cars are fitted with daytime running lights, which are designed to make your vehicle more visible to other drivers – these are great to have in bad weather and, if you have them, will come on when you start your engine.

Low beam headlights are just standard headlights and should always be turned on when driving in the dark. Unbeknown to some, though, they’re also handy during poor driving conditions in the day when visibility is poor.

Full beam headlights shine a more intense light, so they should only be used when there are no vehicles within sight (or at least within 150m). Remember to turn your full beams off when you see another car or when it’s foggy, as the light’s reflection can make it even harder to see.

Fog lights should be used to cut through thick fog and make it easier to see the road’s surface ahead, without dazzling other motorists. Most cars also have a fog light on the rear of their vehicle, making it easier for other cars to spot you.

Driving at Christmas

Christmas is most people’s favourite time of year- what with the indulgence in festive food and drink, how could it not be?!

But while you’re enjoying a few drinks (or a few drinks too many) at your office Christmas party this year, remember not to drink and drive.

Alcohol can remain in your system for up to 12 hours, meaning you don’t have to be ‘drunk’ to be a drink driver! Keep in mind whether or not you have to be up early the following morning and drink (and drive) responsibly.

Drive safely with Bobatoo

From ensuring that you have the correct level of car insurance to helping you cut the cost of driving, Bobatoo has hundreds of useful resources that are sure to come in handy to UK drivers.

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