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Driving in Bad Weather Highway Code

UK Highway Code rules and tips help you to drive safer in adverse weather conditions. This section explains how to drive in snow, fog, in wet and windy weather, and on slippery icy roads.

DRIVING SAFELY IN BAD WEATHER: The seasonal climate in Britain is ‘unpredictable’.

Thus, all drivers should use extreme caution while driving in dangerous weather conditions.

Check out this overview of the official Highway Code road safety rules 226 to 237.

Rule 226: You MUST use vehicle headlights and lighting systems if the road visibility is severely reduced.

As a rule, it applies when you cannot see ahead for more than 100 meters (328 feet). If you use front or rear fog lights you MUST switch them off once the road visibility has improved.

Driving in Wet Weather

Rule 227: Typical driver stopping distances ‘double‘ when driving a vehicle in wet weather. This statistic is a comparison to the distances required for stopping on dry roads.

The main reason for this is because the tyres have less grip on the road when the surface is wet. Thus, when you drive a vehicle in wet weather:

  • You should keep your vehicle well back from the one in front. This helps to increase your ability to see and plan ahead.
  • There could be a lot of splashing rain and water spray created by moving vehicles. This makes it more difficult for you to see and to get seen by other road users.
  • You need to be extra cautious while driving around pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, and horse riders.
  • Any incident of spilt diesel fuel will become more dangerous. This is because it will make the road surface very slippery.
  • Ease off the accelerator and slow down ‘gradually’ if the steering becomes unresponsive. Often, it means water is preventing the tyres from gripping the road.

Driving in Icy and Snowy Conditions

Rule 228: Wintry weather can be particularly harsh for drivers in the United Kingdom. In most cases, the worst months for driving run from November to March.

  • DO NOT drive in these conditions unless the journey is absolutely essential. But, take extra care and allow more time if the journey is necessary.
  • Make sure your windscreen and all other car windows and mirrors are completely clear.
  • Take a roadside emergency kit with you. It should include de-icer, a windscreen ice scraper, a torch, warm clothing, sturdy walking boots, a first aid kit, and jump leads.
  • It is also advisable to store a snow shovel in your car boot (if possible). Take a warm drink and a quantity of snacks or emergency food. This is a precautionary approach to vehicle breakdowns or getting stuck in the snow.

Note: Check the local weather forecast for warnings of icy or snowy weather if you must drive in winter months.

Rule 229: Section 229 of the Highway Code explains the procedures to perform before driving in snow. Before setting off on a journey:

  • Section 229 Highway Code: Driving in Adverse Weather ConditionsYou MUST be able to see through all the vehicle windows. Clear snow and ice from all windows and mirrors and use the vehicle demister.
  • Remove any snow from your vehicle because it may slide off and land in the path of other road users.
  • You MUST ensure the lights and vehicle number plates are clean, visible, and legible.
  • Check that your planned route is clear of adverse weather delays. Try to make sure no further heavy snowfalls or severe weather conditions for driving are forecast.

Rule 230: When driving a vehicle on ice or on snow:

  • Drive with extra care on ice or snow even if the roads already got treated by salt gritters. Stopping distances can be ten times greater than on dry roads so stay well back from the road user in front of you.
  • Take care when overtaking vehicles that are spreading road salt or other de-icer. This is especially important for motorcycle or cycle riders.
  • Snow ploughs may throw out snow on either side. Do not overtake them unless your lane is already clear.
  • Be aware and prepared that road conditions can change (better or worse) over ‘relatively’ short distances.
  • Listen to travel bulletins. Take note of variable message signs that giving information about inclement weather conditions. They also report road closures and the local traffic conditions ahead.

Note: You can find out which roads your council will grit (e.g. in icy or snowy conditions) via the online service if you are living in England or Wales.

Rule 231: Drive with extreme caution and due diligence when the roads are icy. Avoid making sudden steering and braking actions. It can cause a sudden loss of control of the vehicle. Thus, when driving on ice you should:

  • Drive at a slow speed in as high a gear as possible (accelerate and brake very gently).
  • Drive particularly slowly on bends where loss of control is more likely. Brake ‘progressively’ on the straight before you reach a bend. Having slowed down, steer ‘smoothly’ round the bend while avoiding sudden actions.
  • Check the grip of the vehicle on the road surface when there is snow or ice. Make sure you choose a safe place for gentle braking on a grip test.

Clearing Snow and Ice Yourself

As a general rule, no one can sue you for choosing to clear snow from a public road, pathway, steps, or a cycleway yourself.

The law is unlikely to consider you responsible (e.g. if someone gets injured) providing you clear it with ‘reasonable’ care. Nonetheless, you should be extra careful when clearing steps and steep pathways, and:

  • Try to clear snow and ice early in the day and avoid using water (it can refreeze into black ice).
  • Use salt where possible (or ash and sand), but not the salt stored inside salting bins. The council use it to keep main roads clear.

Driving in Windy Weather

Rule 232: As a rule, high-sided vehicles are most affected by windy weather. But, strong gusts of wind can also blow a car off course. This also includes motorcyclists, cyclists, and horse riders.

Open stretches of the highway, country roads, bridges, and gaps in roadside hedges are all exposed to strong crosswinds.

Wind Turbulence caused by Large Vehicles

Rule 233: Vehicles get affected by turbulence created by large vehicles in very windy conditions. Motorcyclists are especially susceptible to wind turbulence created by trucks and lorries. Thus, motorists should stay well back while a motorcycle overtakes a high-sided vehicle.

Highway Code Driving in Fog

Rule 234: Before driving into fog patches on the road, check your mirrors and slow down the vehicle. The word ‘Fog‘ may show on roadside traffic signals even if your road is clear. Prepare for a bank of fog or drifts of patchy fog ahead. You can run into thick fog even when it seems to be clearing up.

Rule 235: If you drive a vehicle in fog or slight foggy conditions you should:

  • Use the vehicle lights as required by the Highway Code road laws in the United Kingdom.
  • Keep a safe distance behind the vehicle in front. Consider that rear vehicle lights often give a false sense of secure distances.
  • Be able to pull up your car well within the distance you can see clearly. This is particularly important on motorways and dual carriageways. This is where most vehicles travel at higher speeds.
  • Use your windscreen wipers and demisters. Be aware that other drivers may not be using their vehicle headlights.
  • Not accelerate to get away from a vehicle which is traveling too close behind you.
  • Check your mirrors before you slow down and apply your brakes. The vehicle rear lights will warn drivers behind you that you are slowing down.
  • Stop in the correct position at a road junction if there is limited visibility. Listen out for the traffic around you.
  • Move forward in a ‘positive’ manner when you are sure it is safe to emerge. Hesitating may put you in the direct path of any approaching vehicles.

Rule 236: You MUST NOT use front or rear fog lights unless the road visibility is ‘severely’ reduced. Unnecessary use of your vehicle lights may dazzle other road users. Rear fog light usage can obscure vehicle brake lights. You MUST switch off vehicle fog lights when the visibility improves.

Law: Click here for the Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989.

Highway Code Driving in Hot Conditions

Rule 237: Keep the vehicle well ventilated while driving in hot weather conditions. Ventilating the vehicle should help you to avoid drowsiness. Road surfaces often become soft after a hot spell of weather. If it rains after a dry spell, the roads can become very slippery.

A soft or slippery road surface may affect steering and braking procedures. Take extra care and slow down or stop (if necessary) if your eyes get dazzled by bright sunlight. This is especially pertinent the during winter time in the United Kingdom. These are the months when the sun crosses lower in the sky.

Driving in Adverse Weather Conditions in the United Kingdom