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Winter Driving Safety Tips

Friday 3rd December 2010

DERBYSHIRE Fire & Rescue Service has given us some advice to help with driving in the hazardous snowy and icy conditions.

Regularly servicing and checking that your vehicle is in good running order before setting out, will reduce your chances of breaking down on the road. It's worth doing these checks regularly - and particularly before a long journey:

  • Check and replace the anti-freeze in the radiator
  • Make sure your lights are clean and check the bulbs
  • Ensure your windscreen is clean
  • Replace the battery if it's not reliable
  • Ensure your tyres are correctly inflated and replace them if the tread has reached the legal minimum. For further information please see

For peace of mind always carry an emergency kit - Gather a few items and keep them in your car - just in case. Below are items that should be in your Emergency Kit:

  • Ice scraper and de-icer      
  • Torch and spare batteries 
  • Warm clothes and a blanket
  • Boots
  • First aid kit
  • Jump leads
  • Food and a warm drink in a vacuum flask
  • A shovel
  • Reflective warning sign
  • Sunglasses - the glare off snow can be dazzling

For a safer journey adapt your driving in bad weather - Even after roads have been treated, driving conditions may remain challenging especially on stretches of road where there's greater risk of side winds or of ice forming. These include places where:

  • There are changes in road elevation or exposure
  • Where the road passes under a bridge  
  • Objects at the side of the road create shade
  • There is infrequent traffic

It is also advisable to slow down on corners where the risk of losing control is at its greatest.

Driving In Snow And Ice:

  • Stopping distances are 10 times longer in ice and snow.

  • Gentle manoeuvres are the key to safe driving.

  • Wear comfortable, dry shoes: cumbersome, snow-covered boots will slip on the pedals.

  • Select second gear when pulling away, easing your foot off the clutch gently to avoid wheel-spin.

  • When climbing a hill it's important to avoid having to stop on the hill by waiting until it is clear of other cars or by leaving plenty of room between you and the car in front. Try to maintain a constant speed, choosing the most suitable gear well in advance to avoid having to change down on the hill.

  • When driving downhill, reduce your speed before the hill, use a low gear and try to avoid using the brakes. Leave as much room as possible between you and the car in front.

  • Always apply brakes gently. Release them and de-clutch if the car skids.

  • If you have an automatic, then under normal driving conditions (motorways, etc) it's best to select 'Drive' and let the gearbox do the work throughout the full gear range. In slippery, snowy conditions you can make driving much safer by selecting '2', which limits the gear changes and also makes you less reliant on the brakes. Many modern autos have a 'Winter' mode which locks out first gear to reduce the risk of wheel spin. Check the handbook if you're not sure.

  • If you do get stuck, straighten the steering and clear the snow from the wheels. Put a sack or old rug in front of the driving wheels to give the tyres some grip. Once on the move again, try not to stop until you reach firmer ground.

Floods and Standing water:

  • Only drive through water if you know that it's not too deep for your car.

  • Drive slowly and steadily to avoid creating a bow wave. Allow oncoming traffic to pass first and test your brakes as soon as you can after leaving the water.

  • Don't try driving through fast-moving water, such as at a flooded bridge approach - your car could easily be swept away.

  • Driving fast through standing water is dangerous – tyres lose contact with the road and you lose steering control in what's known as 'aquaplaning'. Watch out for standing water, trying to avoid it if you can, and adjust your speed to the conditions. If you do experience aquaplaning, hold the steering wheel lightly and lift off the throttle until the tyres regain grip.

  • Driving fast through standing water is inconsiderate - driving through water at speeds above a slow crawl can result in water being thrown onto pavements, soaking pedestrians or cyclists. You could face a hefty fine and between three and nine penalty points if the police believe you were driving without reasonable consideration to other road users.

  • Driving fast through standing water can cause expensive damage - the air intake on many cars is low down at the front of the engine bay and it only takes a small quantity of water sucked into the engine to cause serious damage. All engines are affected but turbo-charged and diesel engines are most vulnerable.

  • As you drive slowly through standing water keep the engine rev's high by using a lower gear, otherwise water in the exhaust could damage the catalytic convertor.

  • If you break down in heavy rain, don't prop the bonnet open while you wait for the patrol to arrive - the engine will be more difficult to start again if the electrics are all rain-soaked.












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