Knowing how to drive in icy conditions is an extremely important skill, especially if you live in a colder climate with harsh winters. Icy conditions can occur suddenly and without warning, so you have to be prepared every time you get in the car once the temperature drops. Bridges are especially dangerous in these circumstances because they ice first due to the absence of warm ground below them. See Step 1 to learn how to be safe in icy driving conditions.
Using Techniques to Stay on the Road
Pump your brakes (if you do not have ABS brakes). Your first instinct may be to slam on the brakes–do not do it! It results in a loss of control over the vehicle. Instead of slamming your brakes, pump them. Use your foot to gently tap the brake pedal when you want to slow down. The car will remain under your control as it slowly loses speed. But there is the danger if the road is too icy that slowing down will make the car lose control and start skidding. This effect is worse when you are at high speed. Skip if the road is too icy.
Give yourself plenty of time to brake in icy weather. Start breaking long before you actually need to stop, just in case you experience ice.
If you don’t quite understand how or why you need to pump the brakes, try practicing the technique in a safe but icy spot, like a completely empty parking lot with plenty of room. Drive on the ice a little, then abruptly brake. See how the car skids? Now try it again, this time pumping. The difference in control should be clear.
Accelerate gently. Your tires need time to connect with the road and get a grip. If you accelerate too quickly, your wheels will spin instead of grip. Accelerate very slowly and gently, testing to see whether your tires have good traction. If you do not feel them gripping, slow down and start the process again.
If you find yourself in a situation in which your tires can’t get a grip, sprinkle the area in front of them with sand, gravel, kitty litter, old towels, or other friction tools. You may also need to dig out some of the snow around them to give them room to move.
Accelerating slowly is another technique that can be practiced in an icy, empty parking lot. Try starting the car on a patch of ice and going hard on the gas. The tires will probably start to spin. Now try again, this time slowly pushing the gas to let the tires get a trip.
Learn how to steer out of a skid. First take your foot off of the accelerator so your car will slow down and regain traction. Gently steer your car in the direction you want it to go. If you overcompensate for the skid and begin sliding the other way, steer back in the direction you want to go. It may take a few subtle movements to straighten your vehicle out. When you’re moving in the right direction, you can gently pump your breaks or accelerate to regain control.
Remain calm if you skid. Resist the urge to overcompensate by swinging your wheel too hard in the other direction. Gentle, calm steering will correct your car’s direction and set you back on track.
Practice losing and regaining control of your car in safe lot. Approach an icy patch and accelerate into it so that your car begins to skid. Gently steer your way out of the skid by guiding your car in the direction you want it to go. This can be a lot of fun!
Winterizing Your Car
Get a basic maintenance check up. Toward the end of fall, take your car to the shop to get a routine check up and make sure everything is in working order. The last thing you need in icy conditions is for your car to break down while snow piles up on the windshield. When you take your car to get winterized, have the mechanic check the following, and replace anything that isn’t working properly:
Tires and tire pressure
Belts and hoses
If your area is ice all the time,install spiked tyres. They will puncture the ice,which will boost your friction greatly.
Get new tires if your treads are wearing out. Even if your mechanic thinks you have some life left in your tires, if you’re heading into an icy winter, you might want to think about getting new ones. The biggest hazard in winter driving is sliding on ice due to poor traction. It’s a safety risk no matter what the state of your tires is, but if your tread depth is getting low you’re at greater risk of wiping out.
The tire-industry standard for good snow and ice traction is a 6/32-inch tread. Make sure the tires you pick out will do an adequate job in the conditions you’ll be facing. Tires designed for high performance in summer don’t do well on icy roads.
If your facing a long, harsh winter, you might want to invest in winter tires. They’re designed with a deeper tread that works well in icy and snowy conditions.
Check your tire pressure throughout the winter. In cold weather, tire pressure naturally drops. Tires that aren’t fully inflated can have a slower reaction time when you’re trying to steer, which could be dangerous when there’s ice on the road. Check your tire pressure every few weeks to make sure they’re fully inflated.
To check your tire pressure, use a gauge to determine the tire’s pounds per square inch (PSI) of pressure. See whether it’s lower than the recommended pressure for your tires.
If you need to adjust the pressure, find a source of air (gas stations have them, as do body shops) and fill the tires one by one, checking the pressure frequently to make sure you don’t overfill them.
Consider investing in snow chains. Snow chains and other devices designed to give the tires more traction on ice are good to have in the trunk in case a blizzard blows in. The chains aren’t difficult to fasten around the tires, and you take them off as soon as the roads are dry again. Talk with your mechanic about which type of device is best for your vehicle. If you live in a region with steep hills and lots of ice, or in a place where salt trucks don’t routinely come by to treat the streets, get top-of-the line snow chains that are easy to take on and off when visibility is low.
If you’re traveling through notoriously icy terrain, you might see signs specifying that snow chains are mandatory. If you’re on a trip and you didn’t buy snow chains beforehand, you can pick them up at most stores that sell auto parts.
Be prepared in case your car breaks down. The most important thing about driving in harsh icy and winter conditions is to always be prepared. In the winter months, this means you should have jumper cables and an emergency driving kit stored in your vehicle’s trunk. Just in case you get stranded for several hours, it’s a good idea to have a supply of food, water and blankets as well.
Always bring along a cell phone when you go out in icy driving conditions. Fender benders and more serious accidents are extremely common when there’s ice around, and you want to be able to call for help right away.
You might want to look into getting a AAA membership or having a local tower’s number handy as well.
Making Smart Driving Decisions
Scrape your windows before you leave. Do not leave your driveway with frost or snow on the windows. You’ll need to have the best possible visibility while you drive over ice and snow. Give your car time to warm up a little so the windows are completely defrosted and snow-free.
You should also check the wipers to make sure they aren’t frozen. If you have to drive through blinding snow it’s imperative that they function properly.
Make sure your side mirrors are clean of snow and ice as well.
Drive in areas that are frequented by salt trucks and snow plows. If you know you have to go out in a snowstorm, steer clear of places that get so little traffic or are so hard to reach they don’t get treated with salt and plowed. Find a route to your destination that doesn’t get clogged with traffic, but that’s central enough to get properly treated.
The salt causes the ice to melt, allowing your tires to gain better traction as you drive, but in very cold temperatures, it won’t melt. In these cases the roads might get treated with sand, which sits on top of the ice and helps your tires grip the road better.
Highways are usually treated and plowed right away, but you want to avoid areas with a lot of traffic. Ice and snow tend to bring out the worst in other drivers. Even if you know what you’re doing, you don’t want to be surrounded by panicked drivers.
Stay alert for the presence of salt trucks and plows, since they tend to drive more slowly than other vehicles on the road.
Drive at half the speed limit or lower when there’s ice on the road. Going too fast in the snow and ice is the easiest way to run off the road or cause an accident. Start out slow to test how much traction your tires are getting. Find a comfortable speed you can drive without sliding or losing control. Visibility is often low when snow is driving into the windshield, so you might have to slow down whether you want to or not. If you have trouble seeing other cars, drop your speed even more.
Though you should err on the slow side, you don’t want to go so slow that you impede the flow of traffic. Try to go the same speed as the cars around you so another driver doesn’t bump you from behind.
Leave plenty of space between your car and the next one. Do not get so close to the next car that you’d easily hit it if the driver were to slam on his or her brakes. Leave enough space so that the other car or yours has room to slide or weave without risking a collision.
Watch out for black ice and other hazards. Black ice is nearly impossible to see until you’re on top of it. It tends to occur in shaded areas and toward the sides of the road. People tend to drive over it at high speeds since they don’t realize it’s there, so black ice is responsible for a lot of bad accidents. Be extremely alert as you drive, and if there’s any chance at all that black ice might be on the road, make sure you’re driving slowly. Overpasses and bridges freeze before the rest of the road, so approach these areas with caution as well. As soon as snow starts to fall, you should drop your speed and be on high alert.
The other big hazard in icy conditions is other cars on the road. As mentioned, snowstorms tend to make drivers feel panicked. Check your mirrors often and stay as alert as possible so you have time to react if you see a car careening toward you. Stay as far away from other drivers as possible.
Pull over when necessary. If you encounter an area where accidents are constantly happening, you are sliding often, it may be simply unsafe to continue. Better to be late than wreck your car or be injured. Pull over and wait out the storm or until the roads are more passable. Ideally, this would be a relatively comfortable place to wait, such as a restaurant, rest stop, mall, or the like. #*On a interstate or major highway, you may have to pull over to a shoulder. Put on your emergency blinkers so you are more visible. However, if you are in a situation with heavy traffic this may be dangerous if traffic passing are sliding off the road.
In an emergency situation, take measures to keep yourself safe and prevent hypothermia. Keep your heater running and use the blanket and other supplies from your emergency kit to stay as comfortable as possible. Use your cell phone to call emergency services for assistance. Even if you have to wait a few hours, they will know where to find you.
If you get stranded in very cold weather, and you are trapped you in the car, studies have shown that the best thing you can do is stay put. If you try to leave the car you risk getting overexposed to the cold. Rescuers will likely be looking for cars in the area where you got stranded.
If you ever do get stuck, remain calm and do not rev your accelerator. This will only make things worse by digging you further into the ground. Use your accelerator very lightly while turning your wheels from side to side to clear any snow out of the way. If necessary, put kitty litter or gravel around your wheels for additional traction.
Have winter tires on the car for the winter if you anticipate much snowyand icy conditions. Have ready and use snow chains only for more or less continuous coverage of the road with snow and ice (they wear out rapidly and will cause problems on dry pavement).
If especially dangerous road conditions exist, do not drive. This is the best way to avoid hazardous driving conditions.
Sources and Citations
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