Driving in severe weather
Snow, ice, high winds, mist and fog, heavy rain - winter can bring all kinds of severe weather. These present different challenges both for keeping the travel networks open and for those navigating through the difficult conditions.
Useful contacts for rail, road, air and sea travel operators can be found here.
Here we provide advice from the experts at Highways England, RAC, and the Institute of Advanced Motorists. The most important thing to remember before setting off on any journey is to check the weather forecast and plan ahead.
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Choices and planning ahead
- If heavy downpours are expected, avoid starting your journey until it clears.
- If you can, choose main roads, where you are less likely to be exposed to fallen branches and debris and flooding.
- Use dipped headlights if visibility is significantly reduced.
- Gusts of wind can unsettle vehicles – grip your steering wheel firmly with both hands. This is particularly important when planning to overtake.
- Keep an eye out for gaps between trees, buildings or bridges over a river or railway – these are some of the places you are more likely to be exposed to side winds. Ensure that you maintain enough room either side of your vehicle so you can account for it being blown sideways.
- Roads will be more slippery than usual in wet weather – be sure to give yourself more time to react when approaching a hazard. Increase your following gap to at least four seconds from the moving traffic in front.
- Keep your eyes peeled on the road at all times as spray from other vehicles can suddenly reduce your visibility. Remember it affects others too, so anticipate their actions and be prepared.
What to do when the road is flooded
- On flooded roads, think before driving through deep water; don’t stop in standing water, and drive through the highest section of the road slowly. If there is any doubt don’t enter it.
- Once you have managed to drive through check your brakes and dry them out as quickly as possible – a light touch of the brakes whilst still moving should do the trick.
- RAC offers more in-depth advice about driving through water and floods.
Keep an eye out for cyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians
- Remember to give vulnerable road users including cyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians more room than usual. They are more likely to be blown around by side winds – always keep a safe distance.
Always adjust your driving according to the conditions and plan your journey by checking the latest weather forecast. You can also look for clues on road conditions such as ice on the pavement or on your windscreen before you start your journey and take extra care.
Highways England and the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland look after motorways and major A roads, and local authorities look after all the other roads, working as hard as they can to keep their networks clear during severe weather. Read more - how do the gritters know when to go out?
Change your route if possible for better conditions
- Stick to the main roads where you can. You should drive with care and respect the road conditions wherever you drive, but if you cannot avoid driving on a minor road, take extra care.
- Only travel if really necessary. Snow ploughs are unable to get through if the road or motorway is full of stationary traffic, so do not make journeys unless completely necessary to give Highways England and local authorities the space they need to help you on your journey.
- Avoid steep hills and exposed roads hills and exposed areas are likely to present more challenging driving conditions in snow and ice.
Make necessary preparations before you set off
- Clear your windscreen of snow, frost or condensation. The Highway Code stipulates you must be able to see out of every glass panel in your vehicle.
- Clear any snow off the roof of the vehicle before you drive away, otherwise you may cause snow to fall on your windscreen hampering your vision. Read about the dangers of driving with snow on your car from RAC.
Useful tips for driving in snow:
- Accelerate gently, using low revs. You may need to take off in second gear to avoid skidding.
- You may need 10 times the normal gap between your car and the car in front.
- Try not to brake suddenly - it may lock up your wheels and you could skid further.
- Be extra cautious at road junctions where road markings may not be visible.
- Read more tips from RAC about driving in snow.
- Look out for winter service vehicles spreading salt or using snow ploughs. They have flashing amber beacons and travel at slower speeds - around 40 mph. Stay well back because salt or spray can be thrown across the road. Do not overtake unless it is safe to do so - there may be uncleared snow on the road ahead.
When should you use headlights in fog?
According to the Highway Code, you must use headlights when visibility is seriously reduced - generally when you cannot see for more than 100 metres.
Advice for how to drive in mist and fog from RAC
- When there’s fog around, make sure you’re familiar with how to operate your front and rear fog lights.
- If your car has automatic lights, remember to check the lights are on, as they may not be automatically activated in foggy conditions. However, do not use full beam lights, because the fog reflects the light back, reducing visibility even further.
- Follow the ‘two-second rule’ to leave sufficient space between you and the car in front.
- If visibility is very limited, wind down your windows at junctions and crossroads to allow you to listen out for approaching traffic. If you really cannot see, you should consider stopping until it is safe to continue.
- If your car is fitted with air conditioning, use it, as it will stop the windows from misting up. Ensure the heater is set to windscreen de-misting and open all the vents.
- If the fog is so severe that you’re struggling to see other vehicles, switch on your fog lights.
Read more about driving in mist and fog.