Tips for driving in snow, ice and hail

Driving in hazardous conditions

8 November 2021

Winter driving can be challenging for the best of us. It brings with it dangerous conditions such as snow, ice and hail, and an increased risk of breakdowns. Unlike our northern European neighbours, UK motorists rarely have to face these dangerous driving conditions. Snow, ice and hail does happen though, and it’s best to avoid driving in these conditions unless you really have to. If you need to navigate these conditions, AXA has put together some helpful hints and tips for winter driving.

While you certainly need your wits about you, there’s plenty you can do to make driving in these conditions easier for yourself. In this guide, we’ll go through some simple tips to keep you safe on the road during the winter months.

Snow

Surprisingly, freshly-fallen snow can provide decent levels of grip. This is because the flakes compact under pressure from car tyres. However, as time goes on, this crushed snow starts to become more like ice. And it can also hide potholes and other hazards such as high kerbs and fallen debris.

If you do need to drive in snowy conditions, make sure you clear any snow off your car – particularly your roof and bonnet. This loose snow can cause problems for other drivers – and you could end up with a fine or points on your license if you don’t. You’ll also want to thoroughly demist all the windows before you set off. It can also help to start in second gear and keep engine revs as low as possible.

You’re best off reducing your speed while you’re on snow-covered roads. Stopping distances on snow and ice can be increased by up to 10 times, due to the lack of traction, so allow yourself that extra space and time to brake. You’ll also want to navigate around obstacles, like parked vehicles, well in advance. This will help you avoid making any sudden movements that could lead to you losing control of your car. Try to pay attention to existing tyre tracks in the snow, and follow them whenever you can.

Hail

Hail storms can be intimidating from behind the wheel, as they can reduce your visibility. Road markings can become hidden within seconds, and braking distances increase as tyres begin to skate over compacted ice balls.

If you can, pull over during a hail storm and wait for it to pass – they rarely last long. On motorway journeys, increase the gap between you and the vehicle in front, set the wipers to their highest speed. Remember that a sudden whiteout may obscure lane and junction lines. You’re best off concentrating on road signs rather than road markings.

Ice

With its smooth, glassy surface, ice can sometimes be difficult to spot, making it a particularly important hazard to be aware of. Most cars nowadays have traction control systems that regulate the rotation speed of each wheel. These systems can really help you when you’re driving in icy conditions, as they can help to stop tyres from slipping. Four-wheel drive will help with traction but won’t help you to stop or steer, so accelerate and brake gently while you’re driving. Dramatically increase stopping distances on icy roads (ideally by 10 times), and always indicate well ahead of time.

  • Torch
  • Blanket
  • Snacks
  • Bottled water
  • Jump leads
  • De-icer and ice scraper
  • Mobile phone and a mobile power pack

While driving in these conditions is never fun, these tips should help you drive safely. The British weather may be unpredictable, but at least we don’t have to drive in these conditions all year round! Just remember, take your time, drive slowly and only travel if you really have to.