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Driving in bad weather: Choosing your route

The Highways Agency looks after England's motorways and major A roads, and local authorities look after all the other roads. Both work as hard as they can to keep their networks clear during severe weather.

Stick to the main roads where you can and avoid exposed routes

You should drive with care and respect the road conditions wherever you drive, but not every road can be treated. You need to take even more care driving on minor roads. 

Even if the time and location of snowfall is perfectly forecast, it will still take time to clear the snow after it has fallen and to treat the road with salt to reduce the risk of ice. It's not just the salt treatment that helps cut through snow and ice; it's the steady flow of traffic too.

Remember though, snow ploughs can't get through if the road or motorway is full of stationary traffic, so give Highways Agency and local authority teams the space they need to do their job and help you on your journey!

Steep hills and exposed roads are also likely to present more challenging driving conditions, so if you could avoid these it might make your journey easier.

For more information visit Highways Agency: Winter

Check weather updates

Take weather conditions into account when planning your route by visiting the Met Office website or listening to local radio broadcasts.

Timing

Always allow extra time in severe weather. Listen to warnings or advice and consider whether or not your journey is essential.

If severe weather is forecast, can you plan your journey to travel before the worst of the weather? Or wait until it has passed? Or at least allow time after the snowfall for crews to start clearing and treating the roads? It all helps.

Remember, in severe weather you will need to allow more time for your journey. If severe weather is forecast are you able to change your travel plans? Can you work at home, for example?

Driving in fog

  • Use dipped headlights so other drivers can see you
  • If it's really foggy (less than 100m visibility) and you can't see much, then switch your fog lights and rear high intensity lights on
  • Fog is often patchy so try not to speed up as visibility improves. You could suddenly find yourself back in thick fog

 Driving in snow and ice 

  • Clear snow off all windows, number plates and lights - so you can see and be seen
  • Clear any snow on the roof of the vehicle before you drive off. It can slip down over the windscreen and obscure your view
  • Avoid revving your engine and spinning your wheels on the slippery surface. Slow and steady works best. Try starting off gently in second gear. Then move into third and avoid sudden steering and braking. Anticipating the road ahead of you becomes even more important, so that you keep moving steadily where you can rather than having to stop and then start off again - especially on hills.
  • It's not always obvious that the road is icy. Look for clues such as ice on the pavement or on your windscreen, before you start your journey. If your tyres are making virtually no noise on the road it could be a sign that you're driving on ice
  • Don't brake harshly - you risk locking up your wheels and you could skid further
  • In severe cold or snowy conditions, look out for winter service vehicles spreading salt or using snow ploughs. They'll have flashing amber beacons and will be travelling at slower speeds. Stay well back because salt or spray is thrown across the road. Don't overtake unless it is safe to do so - there may be uncleared snow or previously untreated surfaces on the road ahead
  • When the main roads are clear, the side roads can often be snow-covered because they are less likely to have been treated and there is less traffic
  • For more information see Met Office: Driving in snow and ice

Driving in rain 

  • When the road's wet, it can take twice as long to stop. So it makes sense to slow down and maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front
  • If your vehicle loses its grip, or "aquaplanes" on surface water take your foot off the accelerator to slow down

Driving in wind

  • Take extra care on the roads and plan your journeys by checking the latest weather conditions.
  • High-sided vehicles are particularly affected by windy weather but strong gusts can also blow a vehicle, cyclist, motorcyclist, or horse rider off course. This can happen on open stretches of road exposed to strong crosswinds, or when passing bridges, high-sided vehicles or gaps in trees.

Driving through a ford

If you break down on the motorway

  • Pull onto the hard shoulder, park as far over to the left as you can, away from traffic, and turn on your hazard warning lights
  • Get yourself and any passengers out of the vehicle immediately, using the doors on the left hand side, furthest from the traffic. While you wait for help, keep well away from the carriageway and hard shoulder - stand over the barrier if it's safe to do so - and do not try even the simplest of repairs
  • Try to use the emergency roadside telephones rather than a mobile phone. This will help traffic officers and emergency services know exactly where you are

For more information please visit Highways Agency: Winter

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