Top 5 Tips for Driving on Icy Roads

That fear, when you realise you are out of control; you see the tail end of your car peeping out; at that moment you know there is no saving; you go where your car takes you. Driving as a task can be excruciating on its own. Add to that ice, and it becomes a hot recipe for a tragedy. But with well-practiced precautions, driving on ice can be fairly do-able. Here are 5 top tips on how to drive on icy roads.

Go Slow, Go Pro

Speeding and going fast is a common instinct people have. But speeding on an icy road is not cool. On an icy road, your biggest enemy is a lack of traction/ friction. Because of the slippery and smooth nature of ice, your tyres have a rough time maintaining proper grip which is why you risk losing control on an icy road. At higher speeds, it becomes incredibly easy for your tyres to lose grip. Also, going faster means that you need more time to stop. The higher braking distance will inevitably contribute to putting you in more danger. The mature thing to do on icy roads is to drop your speed. Even if you have to slow down significantly- like going 40mph in a 60mph road- you must do it, especially if you are fishtailing or can feel the rear end of your car wanting to slide out- the two most common signs that you are losing grip.

So, tip #1: Drive Slow.

Watch out for the Black Ice

Black ice is a patch of nearly transparent and seemingly harmless ice. This is an extremely thin layer which allows road users to see the pavement below clearly through this ice. The main problem with black ice is its deceptiveness. Since the road below shines through this layer fairly well, when travelling at speed, it becomes hard to tell whether or not there is a layer of ice on the road. Add to this travesty the fact that this ice is just as slick and will make vehicles lose grip and a recipe for disaster will be formed.

When driving along in wintry times, it is important to have a keen eye for black ice. Or else the shock-and-awe nature of randomly starting to slip is guaranteed to cause a panic and send you in a ditch.

So, tip #2: Look out for black ice.

Mind your own business

On an icy road, it is not just you who can lose grip. Other drivers too can start slipping. As such, it is imperative that you are constantly aware of the people driving around you. Try to maintain a safe distance from other cars. This will ensure that if someone less loses control, you have less chances of getting hit. In this case, by having a buffer, you can either brake or change your course. Alternatively, if you lose control you will have lower chances of hitting someone else and not worsen the situation.

Another thing to note is that accidents happen all the time on icy roads. And when you see an accident, your natural reaction will be to stop a be a good Samaritan. However, by stopping on an icy road, you can actually harm the situation more. One of the most common news on TV during winter is how a bunch of cars crashed into one another. This ‘pile up’ happens when a car crashes and someone parks on the road thinking they can help but instead creates a blockage. As a result, other drivers are forced to brake. Often times this braking does not go well. Drivers lose control. And cars start crashing by hordes. This is why stopping to help is actually a bad idea. If you see a crash, you have to move on.

So, rule #3: Mind your own business

Choose the right car

Although this particular point might seem counter intuitive in a ‘tips and tricks’ article, choosing you’re the right vehicle needs to be the very first precaution you take if you live in an area that suffers with icy roads. When buying your car:

  • Make sure that it has all-wheel-drive (AWD). This means that instead of just either the rear set of tyres or front set of tyres being ‘driven’ all four wheels have power. In a situation where your rear tyres lose control, modern AWD cars can automatically send more power to the front wheels- to drag you out and vice versa.
  • Select a car with ESC, electronic stability control. ESC is an automated system that detects when your tyres are slipping and can dynamically control power levels to help gain back traction. Luckily for the average buyer, ESC was named as a mandatory feature back in 2012, meaning unless you buy something from a prior model year that 2012, you will have ESC as standard.
  • Choose a car with ABS, anti-lock braking system. ABS is a safety system that helps you when skidding. When your car slips, naturally you mash the brake pedal. ABS systems can manipulate the braking force on each wheel depending on available traction.

Another key item is winter tyres. If you live in a snowy area and have to deal with icy roads yearly, invest in a good set of winter tyres. Common summer or even the supposed all season tyres can never provide the sufficient grip on icy roads. Winter tyres are specifically designed for icy conditions and promise maximum grip.

Although having such features does not make you invincible, these will still be welcome additions. We are working with many uncertainties and variables and having an extra layer of safety is highly beneficial.

So, tip #4: Get the right car.

Stay calm, stay in control

Losing control of your car will cause you to panic. And the added pressure of icy roads never helps. When you panic, you impulsively steer, you thrash all the pedals and you rely on the safety systems on your car too much. And these are things you must avoid.

Firstly, when your car starts to slip in one direction, don’t try veer hard to the other direction. Instead usurp your steering wheel in a controlled manner look towards the direction you want to go. Your peripheral vison will help you see and avoid obstacles. Also, do not go full throttle. When sliding, you can sub consciously push the accelerator too hard. Although you at that moment cannot tell that you are full throttle, because the car is failing to transfer the power properly, if and when you do get back traction, your car will bolt off into whatever you were pointing at and cause a major accident. Similarly, stop braking too hard. Skidding and skirting about will cause you to panic more and suffer more.

Secondly, avoid over-relying on safety systems. Safety systems are great. But you cannot leave it on those to help you completely. Afterall, these are just computer programs. And when you trust these systems too much, you can get a false sense of security which will make you complacent and cause you to crash, badly. Whatever advanced system you have, you still have to be the one in charge even-though all safety systems are welcome additions.

So, tip #5: Stay calm, take charge

End talk

Driving on icy roads is a challenge. But just because the roads are icy, many people cannot stop driving. People have to continue to go out and go to places. And with carefulness, enough precaution, being alert and following the above tips, driving on icy roads can be done, safely so.