Snow, frost and hail: Tips for safe driving

safe driving in winter

When the weather starts to cool it’s often the perfect time for a getaway – perhaps a week in the country, or a few days spent skiing the slopes. But whether it’s for a holiday or just your daily commute, safe driving in frosty conditions is essential. Here are the tips you need to know to stay safe.

Check and check again

Before even starting your car, make sure it’s in adequate shape to tackle frosty conditions. Double-check there is plenty of fuel in the tank, ensure your tyres are properly inflated and not worn down, check that your spare tyre is in good condition, and see that your chains (if driving in the snow) are locked in properly. Also look up directions online to ensure there are no major road issues or dangerous weather headed your way.

Beware black ice

Black ice is the thin layer of slippery ice that forms on top of bitumen roads. It’s completely transparent, which means you won’t know when you’re about to drive over it. As such, it’s important to drive at a moderate speed whenever you’re in frosty conditions.

Once you drive over the slick surface your tyres won’t be able to gain any traction – think of it like aquaplaning in a heavy storm. The best way to deal with black ice is to keep your speed consistent, to avoid any sudden directional changes or braking, and above all to keep plenty of distance between your car and other vehicles.

Keep your windscreen clear

A fogged-up windscreen is incredibly frustrating, but it can be doubly dangerous when driving in winter. You always need good visibility in frosty conditions, especially if it’s snowing, so use your demister as soon as you spot the corners of your windscreen starting to fog up.

It’s also important to scrape off any ice and snow from the exterior of your windscreen before driving. Pour warm water over your windscreen until it’s completely clear, then switch on your wipers to finish the job.

Safe tyres = safe driving

Driving in winter can actually make your tyres deflate faster because the air inside them contracts in the chilly conditions. So make sure they’re properly inflated before driving.

Also, check the tread – are the grooves deep and therefore in great condition for traction? If not, time to get them replaced. Not only are worn tyres very dangerous in winter, but they could potentially void your car insurance.

Tips for driving in snowy weather

Here are some quick tips to keep handy for safe driving in winter:

  • Speed matters: Always adjust your speed depending on the conditions – keep it moderate to slow in very dangerous conditions like ice and snow.
  • Chains: When driving in serious snow conditions, especially when tackling mountainous terrain – such as driving to ski fields – chains are the perfect solution to tyre slippage. You can pick them up at dedicated ski stores, as well as in most towns near Australia’s popular skiing locations.
  • Don’t brake too hard or too often: Any sudden braking may be detrimental. Instead, apply the brakes gently and make sure you keep plenty of distance between yourself and other vehicles.
  • Don’t stop: Unless your car is broken down or you’re in a safe area off the road, it’s crucial that you don’t stop. Anyone approaching from behind will take a lot longer to slow down in frosty conditions.
  • Warm up the car outdoors: It’s highly dangerous to warm up your car in an enclosed area like a garage – with carbon monoxide poisoning being a silent killer. So if you want to get the warm air conditioning running before driving, do it outdoors.
  • Check ahead: Those who fail to plan, plan to fail. So when heading out in wintry conditions, check the weather forecast as well as your GPS directions to see if there are any road works or closed roads that may cause delays.
  • Safety first: Keep a tool kit, jumper cables and of course a first-aid kit in the boot of your car in case of unexpected emergencies – car-related or otherwise.

Know what to expect

Experienced drivers know to expect the unexpected, and in the case of winter conditions that often means preparing for changed road conditions. After stormy weather, heavy snowfall or even a snowstorm, there may be damage to the roads or simply road workers clearing away snow, ice and other debris.

And don’t let a little sunshine lull you into a false sense of security. When snow melts it can leave pockets of ice in the road, meaning dangerous black ice could pop up where you least expect it.

Encourage everyone to drive safely

Sometimes it’s better just to avoid frosty conditions altogether. Maybe delay that ski trip until later in the season when the snowfall isn’t quite so heavy. Or perhaps fly to your favourite winter destination instead of driving. Often we can’t change our plans so easily, but if the option is available then it might be worth considering.

It’s also important to know when it’s time to stop and wait for conditions to improve. If you have your GPS or map handy, mark out rest areas and parking lots in nearby towns where you can wait out a storm if you need to.


Whether you’re out and about for a winter getaway or simply caught in frosty conditions unexpectedly, make sure you’re properly insured. Learn more about our travel, car and trailer and caravan insurance policies today.