Make Sure You're Driving Legally in Winter

Ellie Dyer-Brown, 3 months ago

5 min read

  • Car ownership
A snowy road with a red triangle warning sign for snow/ice.

The Highway Code sets out rules for driving in winter, which are reinforced by the law.

Winter has a reputation for pushing vehicles to their limit and transforming roads into scenes of chaos. We're on hand to ensure you're driving legally and safely as the temperature starts to fall.

Contents:

Winter driving laws

Top winter safety tips

Frequently asked questions


Winter driving laws

The Highway Code sets out essential guidelines for driving in various weather conditions.

The golden rule: 226

This rule is one of the most important when driving in winter. It states that you must use headlights when visibility is severely reduced, whether due to darkness or the weather and you cannot see beyond 100 metres (328 feet) in front of you.

You can also use fog lights but must switch them off when visibility improves.

The law: Regulations 25 and 27 of the Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations 1989 reinforce this rule.


Driving in snowy and icy weather

The following rules apply to driving in snow.

Close up of a winter car tyre on a snowy road.

Rule 228

This rule states that you should check the weather forecast for ice and snow before travelling. Unless your journey is essential, you should not drive in these conditions. 

If you must drive, pack an emergency winter kit, including items like de–icer and jump leads. Our ultimate winter driving guide offers more advice about what to include in a winter car kit.

Rule 229

Before you set off…

  • You must ensure your car’s lights are clean and its number plates are visible.

  • You must be able to see, so take the time to clear snow and ice from all your windows.

  • Your mirrors should also be clear, and the windows fully demisted.

  • Remove any snow from your vehicle that could fall into the path of other road users.

  • Check your route for further delays and predicted snowfall.

The law: these rules are backed up by The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986, specifically Regulation 30; Regulation 23 of The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989; Section 43 of the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994; and Regulation 11 of The Road Vehicles (Display of Registration Marks) Regulations 2001.


Driving in wet weather

A black 2018 BMW 5 Series in the rain.

The following rule applies when you’re driving in the rain.

Rule 227

Stopping distances are at least doubled on wet roads. To stay safe, you should:

  • Keep well back from the vehicle in front.

  • Ease off the accelerator and slow down if your steering becomes unresponsive.

  • Be aware that rain and spray may make it more difficult to see and be seen by other road users.

  • Be aware of the dangers of spilt diesel, making the road very slippery.

  • Take extra care around motorcyclists, pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders.


Driving in fog

Driving in the Fog

These rules apply when you’re driving in fog.

Rule 234

Before entering a fog patch, check your mirrors and slow down.

If you see a sign warning about fog, but the road is clear, be prepared to encounter a bank or drifting patch ahead.

Rule 235

  • Use your lights as needed.

  • Keep back from the car in front; don’t rely on its rear lights for a sense of safety.

  • Be able to stop within the distance you can see.

  • Use your demisters and windscreen wipers to help you see clearly.

  • Be aware that other drivers may not be correctly using their lights.

  • Do not accelerate to get away from a vehicle driving too close.

  • Always check your mirrors before slowing down.

  • Stop in the correct position when you reach a junction and listen for traffic if visibility is poor.

Rule 236

You must not use your fog lights unless visibility is severely reduced; they can dazzle other drivers and obscure your brake lights. When visibility improves, you must switch them off.

The law: these rules are reinforced by regulation 25 and 27 of The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989.


Driving in windy weather

Driving in a storm.

Rule 232

It isn’t just high-sided vehicles that can be affected by strong winds; any car may be blown off course, usually on open stretches of road with strong crosswinds or when passing gaps in hedges and bridges.

Rule 233

Large vehicles can cause turbulence, which may affect your vehicle. Motorcyclists are most at risk, so keep well back from them when they are overtaking a high-sided vehicle.


Top winter safety tips

A few simple checks can ensure that your car is free of faults. While many of these safety tips apply year-round, following them in winter is especially important.

Read our ultimate winter driving guide for more advice on preparing your car for winter.


Frequently asked questions

Can I run my car to warm it up and clear the windows?

In winter, the process of clearing your windows can be time-consuming. It often helps to switch your car on and use the heaters to speed up the process. However, you need to be aware of two aspects of the law.

First, leaving your engine running while the vehicle is unattended is against the law. In other words, you can’t nip inside for a cup of tea while your car defrosts. 

Leaving a car unattended while switched on goes against rule 123 of the Highway Code, enforced by the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986

Second, leaving your engine running on a public road is an offence, even if you’re in the vehicle, according to regulations 98 and 107 of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986. You could receive a fixed penalty notice of £20 for failing to switch off your engine when instructed.

It’s important to note that these regulations specify it is an offence only on a public road; it is not illegal to idle on private land, such as your driveway. 

What is the law on snow chains in the UK?

A man fitting snow chains to a white vehicle on a snowy road.

Snow chains are legal in the UK but are never a legal requirement, unlike in some parts of Europe. 

The law states that tyres must be suitable for the purpose they are being used for, which means you could be committing an offence for using snow chains when there is no snow on the road. Not only that, but this could also damage your car and the road.

Our winter driving guide discusses snow chains in more depth.

Can you be fined for defrosting your car?

Defrosting your car is vital in winter since it is illegal to drive with windows that are obscured in any way. As discussed above, you will not be fined for simply defrosting your car; instead, you may be fined for how you do it.

The two things to remember are: do not leave your car unattended with the engine running to defrost, and do not leave your car idling on a public road

Is it illegal to drive without windscreen wipers?

Holding windscreen wipers to fit them.

The law states that every vehicle fitted with a windscreen must have one or more functioning wipers. The exception to this rule is if the driver can see the road clearly without looking through the windshield.

Every vehicle requiring a windscreen wiper must also have a windscreen washer, apart from a few exceptions, such as a car that cannot travel above 20mph.

Regulation 34 of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 outlines the law concerning windscreen wipers in full.


Worried about the condition or safety of your car? Booking a winter health check could help put your mind at ease.

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Written by Ellie

Ellie Author Pic

Ellie is WhoCanFixMyCar’s Content Writer. She has a BA in English literature from Durham University, a master’s degree in creative writing, and three years of experience writing in the automotive industry. She currently drives a Suzuki Swift.

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