Almost three quarters of drivers take life-threatening risks on icy roads

News from Brake
Immediate issue: 8 January 2016

  • Seven in ten (71%) drivers surveyed have dangerously poor knowledge when it comes to winter stopping distances
  • Two thirds (66%) of drivers believe others do not leave enough space to stop safely
  • More than half of drivers questioned (54%) think other drivers travel too fast in poor weather conditions

As the weather is forecast to turn colder and snow predicted in many parts of the UK next week, a new study is highlighting the risks too many drivers are taking in bad weather. The survey released today (8 January 2016), carried out on behalf of Brake and Direct Line, reveals 71% of drivers questioned do not know how much longer it will take their vehicle to stop in icy conditions. This means they could be putting other road users, and themselves, at risk by under-estimating the distance. 

11% of drivers think the stopping distance is twice as long in icy weather, a third think it’s four times as long and 27% think it should be five times as long. Just 23% of drivers know that the actual figure is up to 10 times as long, with 6% being even more cautious and believing it is up to 20 times as long.    

That means, while on a fine day, if you are driving at 30 mph and need to brake immediately it will take you 23 metres to stop, in icy conditions it could take up to 230 metres - that’s the length of two-full size football pitches [i]and, of course, the faster you are travelling, the further that distance could be. 

Many drivers also do not know enough about stopping distances in wet weather.

More than one in five drivers (22%) fail to check the gap between their car and the car in front, and another fifth (21%) do not leave a large enough gap, meaning that, if they have to brake suddenly, it could lead to a serious crash. Brake recommends that drivers leave at least four seconds between their vehicle and the vehicle in front in wet weather.

More than half of drivers questioned (54%) think that other drivers travel too fast in poor weather conditions, and two thirds (66%) believe other drivers do not leave enough space to stop.

This is why Brake and Direct Line are encouraging drivers to adjust their driving style to the conditions of the road as temperatures drop, and sleet, snow, frost and ice are all forecast.   

Gary Rae, campaigns and communications director for Brake, the road safety charity, said: “Our roads are at their most dangerous during the winter months, so drivers must be at their most cautious. We don’t want any more families to be torn apart by crashes caused by drivers not adapting to the conditions. Ice, snow, heavy rain and fog make driving incredibly risky; stopping distances double in wet weather and can increase up to ten-fold in ice and snow. If snow is forecast, we urge people to think about whether their journey is necessary, but if you get caught out driving in bad weather the critical thing is to slow right down and keep your distance, bearing in mind it will take you much longer to stop in an emergency, and to react in the first place, if visibility is reduced.

Rob Miles, director of motor trading at Direct Line, said: “Even if you feel confident driving in icy or snowy conditions, others may not be able to keep full control of their car and may not be observing the correct stopping distances. If you need to drive, make sure that you take it slow and steady and don’t panic or slam on the brakes. Also, make sure you’ve de-iced your car fully before you drive off as restricted views out of the windows cause needless and preventable accidents. If it’s not safe or you feel too nervous, don’t make the journey.

Case study

Sheila Quinn lost her 24-year-old son Paul Dobson in a bad weather crash in December 2007. He was one of four passengers in a car when the driver lost control on an icy road. Two of the passengers died, and the driver received a five-and-a-half-year sentence for causing death by dangerous driving.

Sheila said: “It’s shocking that people are still not aware of how to drive safely in winter despite messages going out each year. A few moments of showing off can leave families like ours with a lifetime of pain. Living every day without Paul is a struggle. My heart sinks when I’m in my car and I see drivers far too close to each other and continuing to tail gate in poor weather conditions. My younger son is now 18 and not yet driving but does now go out with his friends in cars and it’s so frightening. I would urge all drivers to slow right down and take extra care in bad weather, so no more lives are ruined. I would hate any other family to go through what we have been through and are still going through. It’s a life sentence and it doesn’t get easier."

Audio of Sheila’s story available on request. 

THE FACTS: Winter driving

•           In wet weather, stopping distances more than double. On top of this, the rain and spray from other vehicles make it harder to see hazards.

•           In icy or snowy weather, stopping distances can be 10 times greater. Even if you think roads have been treated, it’s essential to drive slowly and keep well back from other road users.

•           The responsibility for clearing the snow and gritting most roads, including local streets, falls to the local highway authority. However, given financial and resource pressures it is not possible for all roads to be treated. Around 40% of roads are gritted. This means a driver can never assume that a road has been gritted.

ADVICE FOR DRIVERS: The A,B,C of winter driving

•           AVOID driving in snow and other treacherous conditions. Never set off when it’s snowing or forecast to, and avoid driving if you possibly can in other bad conditions like fog, heavy rain and ice. Consider alternatives such as walking or public transport if available. If you drive to work, speak to your employer about working from home when weather is very bad, especially if you live in a rural area prone to snow or floods.

•          BE PREPARED. Make sure your vehicle is well maintained, and tyres have a tread depth of at least 3mm. Check forecasts and plan your route to avoid roads likely to be more risky and allow plenty of time. Pack a winter driving kit in case you’re caught out. This should include: an ice scraper or de-icer; torch; cloths; a blanket and warm clothes; food and drink; first-aid kit; spade; warning triangle; and high-visibility vest. Always take a fully charged phone in case of emergencies, but never use it when driving.

•           CAREFUL AND CAUTIOUS DRIVING. If you do get caught driving in bad conditions, you need to slow right down increase the distance behind the vehicle in front. In rain your stopping distance doubles, so keep a four second gap. In snow or icy conditions stopping distances increase by as much as 10 times so you need to drop right back. Keep a careful look out for people on foot and bikes who may be harder to spot. Avoid harsh braking and acceleration and carry out manoeuvres slowly and with extra care. 



The survey consisted of 1,000 drivers and was conducted by Surveygoo


Q1: Do you drive when there is snow or you expect it to snow?

  • 10% said, “No, I avoid driving in snow”.
  • 13% said, “Yes, but only if it's the only viable transport option”.
  • 12% said, “Yes, but only in an emergency”.
  • 29% said, “Yes, but only in light snow”.
  • 36% said, “Yes, I will drive in snow”.

The risks of driving increase in winter weather, particularly in icy or snowy weather. The Highway Code is clear that drivers should not drive in these conditions unless the journey is essential.

Q2: Do you think drivers reduce their speed enough for safety in poor weather conditions such as ice, snow, fog or heavy rain?

  • 54% said, “No, most drivers drive too fast in poor weather”.
  • 46% said, “Yes, most drivers slow down enough for safety”.

Most drivers (54%) believe that other drivers go too fast in poor weather. Older drivers, who are more likely to have more experience driving, are more prone to think that others are driving too fast.

Q3: Do you think drivers leave enough space between them and the vehicle in front in poor weather conditions such as ice, snow, fog or heavy rain?

  • 66% say “No, most drivers travel too close”
  • 34% say “Yes, most drivers leave enough space.”

Two-thirds of drivers (66%) think that most drivers travel too close to the vehicle in front in poor weather. Older drivers, more likely to be more experienced on roads, are more likely to feel that other drivers are not leaving enough space to be safe, with 85% of drivers over 65 reporting this view.

Q4: How many seconds do you leave between your vehicle and the vehicle in front in wet weather?

  • 1% say at least one second
  • 6% say at least two seconds
  • 14% say at least three seconds
  • 19% say at least four seconds
  • 38% say at least five seconds
  • 22% say that they don’t usually count a gap behind the vehicle in front

Brake recommends that drivers leave four seconds between their vehicle and the vehicle in front in wet weather. More than one in five drivers (22%) fail to check their gap, and another fifth (21%) do not leave a large enough gap, meaning that, if they have to brake suddenly, it could lead to a serious crash.

Q5: How much do you think stopping distances increase in icy conditions?

  • 11% say twice as long
  • 33% say four times as long
  • 27% say five times as long
  • 23% say 10 times as long
  • 6% say 20 times as long

In icy conditions, stopping distances are up to ten times as long as in dry conditions. Only a quarter of drivers (23%) know this, with the majority under-estimating the distance, meaning that many drivers may be unwittingly putting themselves and other road users at risk in icy conditions.


About Brake

Brake is a national road safety charity, founded in 1995, that exists to stop the needless deaths and serious injuries that happen on roads every day, make streets and communities safer for everyone, and care for families bereaved and injured in road crashes. Brake promotes road safety awareness, safe and sustainable road use, and effective road safety policies. We do this through national campaignscommunity educationservices for road safety professionals and employers, and by coordinating the UK's flagship road safety event every November, Road Safety Week. Brake is a national, government-funded provider of support to families and individuals devastated by road death and serious injury, including through a helpline and support packs. 

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Road crashes are not accidents; they are devastating and preventable events, not chance mishaps. Calling them accidents undermines work to make roads safer, and can cause insult to families whose lives have been torn apart by needless casualties. 

About Direct Line

Started in 1985, Direct Line became the first UK insurance company to use the telephone as its main channel of communication. It provides motor, home, travel and pet insurance cover direct to customers by phone or on-line.

Direct Line general insurance policies are underwritten by U K Insurance Limited, Registered office: The Wharf, Neville Street, Leeds LS1 4AZ. Registered in England No 1179980. U K Insurance Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.

Direct Line and UK Insurance limited are both part of Direct Line Insurance Group plc.

Customers can find out more about Direct Line products or get a quote by calling 0345 246 3761 or visiting

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