Tips to Drive Safely During Winter in Europe

Heading to Europe during winter? Here are our tips to drive safely on the icy, snow-covered roads if you're taking a road trip.

Small car on the bendy road below Mam Tor in the Peak District national park, Derbyshire, England Photo © Getty Images/Photos by R A Kearton

When a cold snap rolls across Europe, snow can fall in places that doesn't normally see snow at all, such as Corsica in the Mediterranean.

Further north, where snow and ice is much more common, an icy Siberian blast claimed more than 100 lives back in 2012 during a brutally cold Russian winter. These cold snaps can also cause major disruption to transport across Europe, orderingd trucks off the roads, rail operations to halt and flights to be grounded.

So, if you're traveling around Europe during winter, it's important you factor transport delays into your trip.

Here's what you need to know if you decide to hire a car to get from A to B during the freezing cold winter months.

Hiring a car vs flying in the winter

If you absolutely have to be somewhere in Europe during a big freeze and the trains and planes aren't running, it may be tempting to hire a car and drive yourself around.

Be warned – especially if you aren't used to winter driving conditions – driving can be really dangerous. You could spend eight hours or more stuck in your car in a snowdrift, you could hit black ice that sends your car spinning, you could be left stranded on an isolated road at night in freezing temperatures.

Chances are it's much safer for you to wait out the flight delay and get to your destination without the troubles of traveling on the icy roads during a cold snap.

How to drive safely in winter

Britain's AA has some excellent tips on winter driving, but here are a few of our own:

  • Our first tip is to go easy on the brakes and accelerator. Any sudden changes can cause the tires to lose grip on the road
  • Set your speed before entering a corner – A change in velocity halfway through a turn could easily throw you into a slide, so make sure you gear down or brake well ahead of the curve
  • If you do start to skid while turning, you'll retain more grip if all your wheels are moving, so back off the brake and stay away from the accelerator. The rule of thumb is to turn into the skid to try and get your wheels going the same way as you are
  • If the back of the car is sliding, don't panic, just slowly and smoothly turn the wheel the way the rear is moving. Sometimes you might slightly overdo it and the back will lash out in the opposite direction. Never fear if this happens, just keep gently correcting until you're back in line
  • Pack extra clothing and warm blankets in the car. Put some snacks and water in your survival bag, maybe even a thermos of hot tea
  • If you're renting a car, see if you can get one with GPS and an emergency ‘panic' button to summon help
  • If you are stranded, stay with the car – it's your best chance of surviving. Outside temperatures, especially at night, will quickly cause hypothermia, and unless you find help quickly you'll be in deadly trouble.

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