SNOW, strong winds, snow drifts and freezing rain can play havoc with the UK’s road network, particularly in January and February. Met Office warnings of routes blocked by deep snow can appear suddenly, with unsuspecting drivers and passengers caught out and stuck in their stranded vehicles.
It’s important drivers who do venture out onto the roads are fully prepared for the worst-case scenario. Knowing how to act safely in such situations is key to ensuring the severe winter snap doesn’t end in disaster.
Follow these steps to stay safe during what the tabloids have taken to calling “snowpocalypses”.
1 Do you have to travel?
With red warnings issued by the Met Office for parts of the country, including South West England, Wales and Scotland, there is a risk to life in certain parts of the UK. So before you venture outdoors, ask yourself whether your journey is that important that it’s worth putting yourself and others at risk.
2 Pack an emergency kit in your car
If you’re driving any further than a walk from home, you need to be prepared for the worst-case scenario: getting stuck in snow in freezing temperatures. So pack an emergency kit.
For the car, fill a large box with:
- a high-visibility vest
- tow rope
- jump leads
- mobile phone charging lead
- some de-icer
- an ice scraper
- some ready-mixed windscreen washer fluid
- some long-lasting drinks and snacks
Also look into snow socks for your tyres, which may allow you to get to get unstuck. You can find winter essentials like this at Halfords by clicking here.
Put that lot in the boot.
Also check the condition of the car’s spare wheel and tyre and ensure you have all the tools to change a wheel, as well as a reflective warning triangle.
3 Be prepared to wrap up warm
Pack a warm winter coat, an extra jumper, waterproof trousers, sturdy boots or wellies, an extra pair of socks, a hat, scarf and gloves. And throw in a blanket or two.
4 Tell someone where you’re going
Let friends or family know when and where you are travelling. If you end up stuck down a deserted country lane, and you forgot to charge your phone and pack a charge lead (see above) it will help if people know where to start searching for you.
5 If you get stuck
Switch on the car’s hazard warning lights. Put on the warm clothing, sturdy boots and high-visibility vest, dig out the reflective warning triangle and place it a good distance behind the car, so that traffic approaching on the same side of the road has notice of a hazard ahead.
6 Call for help
Work out where you are and call for help. Your sat nav or phone can give you your location, and friends or family can rally assistance. If you are a member of a breakdown service, call for recovery. If you aren’t, you can pay to join immediately. Bear in mind there will be delays during such extreme winter weather.
7 Is anyone nearby?
Could a Good Samaritan with a 4×4 help tow you free from the snow? Or are others able to help push your car to a place of safety, so it’s not a danger to other road users? Don’t be shy; ask for help.
8 In a remote location…
Don’t leave your car. If it has plenty of fuel, you will be able to remain inside, sheltered from the winter weather and can run the engine from time to time, using the heater to warm the cabin. Try not to use all the electrical items, such as the radio, heated seats and headlights, as these could drain the battery.
A note on electric cars:
We’re big fans of electric cars at driving.co.uk but in this situation, your vehicle’s power may run out quite a bit quicker than if you were driving a petrol and diesel car. This is partly because those liquid fuels are highly energy-dense (petrol is about 100 times more energy dense than lithium-ion, for the same volume), meaning an engine can run on tickover providing heat for a long time.
And the internal combustion engine’s big disadvantage over electric motors — namely energy loss through heat — is of course an advantage when heating the interior of a car, as some of that heat is simply redirected into the cabin. An electric car, on the other hand, has no heat source other than the air conditioning system itself.
Some EVs, like the latest Renault Zoe, make use of heat-pump air conditioning systems, as found in motorhomes, which require less energy; a big advantage if you get stuck in a remote location in the snow, allowing you to stay warmer for longer.
However, the point is that electric car drivers will need to be even better prepared than petrol and diesel car owners when venturing out in treacherously snowy conditions.
9 If you have to sleep in the car
The most important thing is to stay warm and hydrated. Consume your drink and snacks slowly, and run the engine and heater when needed, keeping an eye on the fuel level.
10 Remember to lock the doors when asleep
For your own safety, keep the doors locked while you get some rest.