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Motoring: 10 pro tips on how to drive in snow

By Paul Connolly

As many areas continue to struggle with the latest snowfalls, it’s worth reminding ourselves that knowing how to drive in snow is a key skill.

Remember, you have your own life and limb at stake, and if you have passengers in the car then you are morally – and legally – responsible for their safety.

Most people well understand the hazards of inclement weather, and in particular ice and snow, but are still caught out when the white stuff suddenly appears.

Longer stopping distances, poor visibility, slush and spray, freezing fog, unpredictable behaviour in other drivers; the list of hazards is long and tricky.

Here are our top tips for driving in ice and snow:

1. Be prepared

The top tip is the most obvious, but in our busy daily lives it’s often forgotten: be prepared.

Fit winter or all-season tyres. Check tyre pressure and tread: road safety and breakdown organisation GEM says this should be fortnightly at a minimum. Plan your journey, top up on fuel, and pack a coat, hi-vis vest, well-charged mobile, and other practicalities in the car. Imagine if you were caught out on a mountain road all night because the snow plough couldn’t get to you.

2. Plan your journey

Use main routes, the DoE publishes its gritted network online. Avoid the obvious if possible: mountain roads, sea-soaked roads, narrow streets lined with cars, etc.

3. Wear proper driving footwear

Yes, you should pack heavy boots or wellies if things are bad, but don’t drive in them. You will lose sensitivity and the intimate ‘feel’ of the car. And with big footwear you might clip the accelerator when you’re braking.

4. Accelerate smoothly

Think before setting off. Hi revs equals spinning wheels. Try to set off in second gear, and use higher gears than normal to stop sudden jerks.

5. Corner evenly

Size up the trajectory of each corner and glide in and out, avoiding jerky movements and understeer/oversteer. Some drivers swing the front end out before turning left, e.g. into a lane or side street; this is annoying and dangerous to other drivers in normal conditions. In snow and ice, it’s an accident waiting to happen.

6. Brake slowly

Apply the brakes with caution. They might be your best friend, but they might also be an enemy.

In very slippery conditions, try to brake infrequently; if possible let the engine slow you down almost to a stop. Brake gently, heavier braking can trigger your car’s ABS (automatic braking system), which may not work appropriately in very poor conditions.

7. Leave a seriously-long stopping distance

This is as obvious as the nose on your face; but unfortunately many drivers simply ignore it, with the obvious consequences.

8. Steer into a skid

If the car does start to skid, your inclination may well be to turn the other way. This instinct is usually wrong. If the rear end drifts out, turn the other way, into the skid. If it’s the front end sliding out, straighten the steering wheel to hopefully allow the wheels to grip. If this isn’t working, try steering into the slide. Apply the brakes very carefully and only if needed.

9. If you start to slide downhill

This also is not good, obviously. One action that sometimes works is to yank up the handbrake and put the steering into a full lock. The hope is the handbrake will lock the rear wheels, and the full lock will allow snow/slush to build up under the front wheels, slowing or stopping the vehicle's progress (assuming velocity/gradient are on your side).

10. Stuff to get you out of the ditch

Should the worst happen, you will need to get yourself out from being stuck, either in a ditch, a rut or the side of the road.

A collapsible snow shovel is a great buy. You can also purchase snow socks, or other kit. My favourite tip is two bits of old carpet to put under your wheels to gain traction.

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