Top tips for driving in icy conditions

Car tyre track imprints through ice and slush covered tarmac.

Published 31 January 2022
Last updated 19 January 2024

In this blog we'll explore the skills you need to drive safely when there's ice on the road.

Well we thought we’d got away with it, eh? After some amazingly high temperatures in late December and early January (yes, it really did get up to 14 degrees in these parts – how was it for you?!), normal service has resumed. That means there’s ice on the roads and drivers need to take extra care when they’re out and about.

Long-time readers of our blog will remember that we posted on this topic last year, but it’s so important that we think it’s worth revisiting.

Tips for driving in icy conditions

So, what can you do to stay safe in icy conditions? Here’s a quick guide:

  • Your first question should always be: is my journey necessary? If the roads are icy and you don’t have to go out, then don’t go out

  • Plan your journey. This might seem a strange point, but think about it. If you get ready early, check the weather reports and give yourself plenty of time to prepare your vehicle, you’ll be under less time pressure. Rushing is the enemy of safe driving – particularly when there’s ice about. The golden rule is: give yourself time!

  • Check your tyre tread at regular intervals. Although the legal limit is 1.6 mm, in snowy and icy conditions it makes sense to consider changing your tyres when the depth gets down to between 2.5 and 3 mm. You could also consider winter tyres, or speak to a professional tyre fitter for more information.

  • Make sure your ‘coolant reservoir’ is topped up with the right kind of anti-freeze. Antifreeze is pretty essential stuff. Like the name suggests, it prevents the water in your engine’s cooling system from freezing. If the water did freeze, you’d be left with a very nasty bill for a new radiator (and maybe a new engine!). It’d also be pretty embarrassing having to tell the recovery driver what happened.

    Antifreeze comes in various formulas, and these should not be mixed with each other. Your vehicle handbook will tell you what type of antifreeze you need, and the correct ratio of water and antifreeze to put in your radiator. (You can also buy ready-mixed antifreeze for greater convenience.) You’ll find the ‘coolant reservoir’ under the bonnet – but, again, check your handbook for the exact location. Once you have a bottle of correctly mixed antifreeze, pour it into the reservoir, up to (and no higher than) the ‘maximum’ level marking.

Once you’re out on the road...

  • Remember that your vehicle’s tyres will not grip nearly so effectively in icy conditions, so you’ll need to allow a much larger gap between you and the vehicle in front

  • Be on the alert for patches of ice. Sometimes they will be clearly visible, but on rural roads, for example, ice may be hidden at the margins or in shadows cast by trees and buildings. Take extra care in these situations and keep your speed down

  • Try and anticipate problems by scanning well ahead. This will give you plenty of time to react if you see a developing hazard

  • Avoid sudden, harsh, braking and accelerating

  • Think about where you are. On main roads conditions may have improved more rapidly, but rural and side roads could still be icy

  • Don’t assume that every road has been gritted – in many cases councils and National Highways will only grit priority routes.

Icing on the brake…

So that’s our quick guide to driving in icy conditions. We hope you enjoyed reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it. For anyone out there that’s interested in learning more about winter driving, you’ll find plenty to enjoy in The Official DVSA Guide to Driving the Essential Skills:

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