10 tips for safer winter driving in 2023

We’ve partnered with Vitality Car Insurance to help us all become better drivers. So, here’s our simple guide on how to stay safe in bad weather and avoid winter accidents on wet and icy roads...

Your guide to avoiding the worst of the weather and driving more safely this winter

Crisp morning walks, hot drinks and hearty meals are just a few of the joyous things we associate with winter. But when it comes to driving, colder weather isn’t always something to look forward to.

Snow, ice and rain all pose challenges on the road, and with the UK braced for a flurry of weather warnings, we’ve partnered with Vitality car insurance to bring you a comprehensive winter driving guide, helping you to navigate winter preparation and how to drive when the bad weather hits.

Like What Car?, Vitality believes that good driving should be rewarded. “We’re committed to making roads safer by combining the latest technology with rewards to encourage people to drive well with our car insurance,” explains Andrew Webb, Managing Director for Vitality Car. “By doing this, we are unlocking significant value for customers and taking steps to make our roads safer and prevent accidents.”

Vitality’s new type of car insurance uses data from an in-car sensor and app to help you understand how to drive more safely and efficiently, actively rewarding you for the days you drive well, and even for the days you don't drive at all. It all adds up to regular rewards, like up to 25 per cent cashback per month based on your core premium. That’s £117 per year for good drivers[1] .You can also earn up to £250 off your excess, and even claim weekly drinks from Caffè Nero. Let’s get into it

Leaving snow on car roof

1: Prepare your car

Daytime television chefs will tell you that when it comes to cooking, preparation is everything. It’s the same story when it comes to winter driving. Before heading out on the road, you need to ensure your tyres are inflated correctly, screenwash is topped up, windows are defrosted, and your winter driving kit fully stocked. Check out our comprehensive guide to help you prepare your car for every winter journey.

We’ve partnered with Vitality Car Insurance to help us all become better safer drivers. So, here’s your guide to avoiding the worst of the weather and driving more safely this winter

2: Plan your journey

Before driving in wintry conditions, always ask yourself whether your journey is essential. Could you complete the journey on foot, or even wait for the weather to improve? If the answer is yes, we strongly recommend leaving the car at home or staying in all together. In fact, article 228 of the Highway Code states you should only travel in icy or snowy conditions if your journey is absolutely essential.

If you do have to drive, plan your journey carefully. Try sticking to main roads that are less likely to be flooded, or more likely to be gritted to prevent ice and snow. Check traffic and weather websites before setting off, plan regular stops and always leave yourself plenty of time – you don’t want to be rushing through a storm.

Your guide to avoiding the worst of the weather and driving more safely this winter

3: Look further ahead

The first rule of winter driving is to always look as far ahead down the road as possible. Don’t simply look at what’s directly ahead of you, but instead read the road for potential hazards, pedestrians and other road users. Snow, rain or sleet will impede your visibility and increase your braking distances (more on this later), so make sure to stay alert.

Your guide to avoiding the worst of the weather and driving more safely this winter

4: Accelerate gently and use higher gears

Once out on the road, you might need to alter your driving style to suit the cold conditions. In 2020, ‘travelling too fast for the conditions’ contributed towards 13% of all collisions on UK roads[2]If there’s snow, ice or extreme wet weather, you should accelerate gently and progressively to help avoid wheelspin. If you have a manual, pulling away in second gear can help improve traction. Try to keep the revs low and drive in a high gear where possible. If you find your car is stuck in the snow, get out, get to a safe place away from the road and call your recovery service. 

10 tips for safer winter driving

5: Know how to brake

Around 400,000 rear-end shunts occur on UK roads each year, accounting for one in four collisions overall[3]. You should always leave at least a two-second gap to the car in front in dry conditions. This should be doubled in the wet, and 10 times further in snow or icy conditions. When slowing down or descending a hill, use your gears and engine braking to help control your speed, and avoid heavy or sudden braking that could cause a lock-up. If your wheels do lock up and your car doesn’t have ABS, don’t step on the brakes more heavily, as this will make it worse. Instead, pump the brake pedal to help regain traction and keep the wheels turning.

Your guide to avoiding the worst of the weather and driving more safely this winter

6: Don’t panic if you slide

While it may be a scary thought, it’s a real possibility that you might find your vehicle skidding or sliding across the road when conditions get really bad. The main thing to remember here is not to panic. Stay calm and think of the following. If your car is sliding under braking, the Highway Code suggests: “Remove the cause by releasing the brake pedal fully or easing off the accelerator and turn the steering wheel in the direction of the skid.” For example, if the rear of your vehicle begins sliding to the right, steer gently in the same directly to help counter. Avoid heavy braking as this often affects the car’s ability to turn, and don’t do any erratic steering.

Your guide to avoiding the worst of the weather and driving more safely this winter

7: Use your lights (correctly)

Throughout the winter months, visibility is often poor, even during the day. So, it’s advisable to always keep your lights on (dipped beams), even during the lighter hours to ensure that other road users can quickly and easily see your car. You should also use your front and rear fog lights when visibility is less than 100m, but remember to turn them off when conditions improve so as not to blind other drivers. And, while it may seem counterintuitive, it’s not always recommended to use your full-beam headlights in heavy snow, rain or fog. This is because the light can often reflect back into the cabin and severely reduce your own visibility.

LT BMW X7 front - wading through water

8: Drive slowly through deep water

Driving through water can have serious implications for your car if it is too deep. Driving too fast through such bodies of water runs the risk of water-logged engines and expensive repair bills.  Just ask the people of Nottinghamshire, who recently saw Rufford ford closed, following a slew of motorists driving through the deep ford went viral on TikTok. What has now become a tourist hotspot is putting pressure on local fire and police services, when drivers found out (the hard way) that their cars could not negotiate the ancient river crossing. 

It takes less than a cup of water to ruin a car’s engine, so it’s essential when you come across a body of water to scope it out before attempting to drive through. Try to look for reference points like walls or bridges to gauge the depth.Once you’re confident you can get through and you’re in the water, keep progress very slow and steady. If you get midway and it’s deeper than you thought, reverse back out.

Vauxhall Grandland X in winter

9: Don’t rely on all-wheel-drive

In the past, only imposing SUVs and rally cars featured all-wheel-drive technology. Now, many saloons, hatchbacks and estates send their power to all four wheels too. However, while all-wheel-drive does provide better confidence-inspiring traction, it doesn’t always help the turning or stopping of your car. So, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security, always drive with caution no matter what your car’s set-up.

Kia Sorento towing a caravan

10: Avoid towing

This might seem like an obvious point, but it’s important nonetheless. Towing a caravan, horsebox or trailer will add weight to your vehicle and increase the possibility of you getting stuck, sliding or locking your wheels. If you don’t need it, don’t take it.

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[1] Based on a member earning the full 25 per cent Cashback Reward each month, calculated using the average Vitality Car core insurance premium (excluding optional extras and interest charges) for policies sold between 1 July and 30 September 2022.