How to drive in snow and ice: best way to handle a car safely on snowy and icy roads - and which gear to use to stay in control

The winter weather shows no signs of letting up, with more freezing conditions and snow hitting huge parts of the country and more expected.

With sub-zero temperatures come difficult driving conditions so it's important to know how to drive safely when there is snow or ice on the road.

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Before you head anywhere make sure you and your car are properly prepared, the brush up on the basics  for staying in control and staying out of danger.

Slow down

Snow, ice and water on the road reduce grip and, coupled with poor visibility in bad weather, they mean it’s essential that you cut your speed.

Stopping distances can be 10 times greater in snow and ice so slowing down gives you more time to react to other traffic or hazards on the road ahead.

Braking distances increase dramatically in snow and ice (Photo: Shutterstock)Braking distances increase dramatically in snow and ice (Photo: Shutterstock)
Braking distances increase dramatically in snow and ice (Photo: Shutterstock)

However, be careful that you don’t drive so slowly that you risk losing momentum. On snow-covered roads and especially on hills this could see you stuck and struggling to get moving again.

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Keep it smooth

As well as keeping your speed down you need to keep your inputs smooth. Sharp acceleration, braking or steering are more likely to cause your car to lose grip, leaving you with no control.

Where you can, try to use engine braking to slow down, that way you’re less likely to skid.

For more advice on how to cope with a skid read our expert’s guide here. 

Leave more space

With stopping distances seriously increased by slippy conditions it’s vital you leave more space between your car and the vehicle in front.

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It’s also important to try and anticipate what other drivers are doing - being properly aware could save you from a crash or being stranded as others grind to a halt. It also means you're less likely to have to brake or steer suddenly.

Use a high gear

If your car is struggling to find grip, especially when pulling away, trying selecting a higher gear. This should reduce the amount of wheelspin and help you get moving.

Stay seen

With shorter days and the prospect of rain, fog or snow making visibility worse, it's important to make sure you can see and be seen. Check all your lights work and are clear of snow or ice before setting off. Don't wait until it's pitch black to use your headlights and don't just rely on running lights when conditions deteriorate. If it's snowing heavily, dipped beams may actually work better than full beams.