11 Tips for Driving on Icy Road

11 Tips for Driving on Icy Road

Published on: February 12, 2024

During the unpredictable winter months driving on icy roads can be quite risky even for the most experienced drivers. The treacherously slick surfaces, the impaired visibility due to falling snow or fog, and the unpredictability of other road users all combine to create an environment that commands utmost respect and caution.

The risks associated with icy driving are escalated by the fact that a single misjudgement or momentary lapse in concentration could result in serious, sometimes life-altering, consequences. It is therefore of paramount importance to be fully equipped – both in terms of knowledge and vehicle readiness – when venturing out onto icy roads.

This guide aims to provide you with a comprehensive set of tips and techniques to ensure your safety when faced with icy road conditions.

Check Weather Forecast

In winter, weather can be unpredicted with rapid changes in temperature and precipitation. It is always advisable to check the weather forecast before heading out.

And this should not be limited to your current location, but for all the areas you’ll be driving through.

You can also check live traffic reports for any weather-related disruptions or accidents on your intended route.

Additionally, many advanced navigation systems within vehicles now offer real-time weather updates and can adjust your route accordingly.

In case a severe winter storm or blizzard is predicted, it is better to avoid travelling and postpone your journey or explore alternative, safer routes.

Also Read: 10 Ways to Get Your Car Ready for Winter

Clear the Ice and Snow From Vehicle

Before setting off, take the time to completely clear your vehicle of any ice or snow. This includes not only the windows and mirrors but also the roof, bonnet, boot and lights.

Leaving a layer of snow or ice on top of your vehicle can be extremely dangerous as it could loosen and fall onto your windscreen while driving, impairing visibility and causing a potential hazard.

Moreover, it is also important to clear any ice or snow from your headlights and brake lights as they are crucial for visibility to other road users.

Inspect Your Vehicle

Driving on icy roads can take a toll on your vehicle, so it’s important to perform a thorough inspection before heading out.

Here are some key areas to pay attention to:

Check Tyre Pressure and Tread Depth

To ensure good traction on icy roads, it is essential to have well-inflated tyres with sufficient tread depth.

The recommended tyre pressure varies by vehicle, so make sure to check your owner’s manual for the correct pressure and adjust accordingly.

According to the law in UK, tyres should have a minimum tread depth of 1.6 mm across the central three-quarters. However, we recommend for winter driving, your tyres should have a minimum of 3mm tread depth for winter driving.

If they are worn out, consider replacing them with winter tyres for better grip and control.

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Ensure All Lights are Working Properly

It is crucial to have all your lights in working order during winter driving conditions.

Check that your headlights, brake lights, fog lights, and indicators are all functioning correctly. If any bulbs need replacing, do so before heading out.

Also, ensure that all the lights are clean and clear of snow or ice for maximum visibility.

Pack an Emergency Kit

In case of an emergency or breakdown, it is important to have a well-stocked emergency kit in your vehicle.

Some essential items to include are:

  • A first aid kit
  • Blankets and extra warm clothing
  • Non-perishable food and water
  • Flashlight and batteries
  • Ice scraper and de-icer
  • Jump leads for battery emergencies
  • Jump start battery pack
  • Mobile phone charger
  • Reflective warning triangle and high visibility vest.

These are just a few examples of items that could prove useful in a winter driving situation.

Fill Up on Fuel

During winter, it is recommended to keep your fuel tank at least half full – especially if you are travelling long distances. This will prevent the fuel lines from freezing due to cold temperatures.

Additionally, it is always better to have more fuel than less in case of unexpected delays or detours.

Adjust Your Driving Habits

Driving on icy roads requires a different set of skills and techniques compared to normal driving conditions.

Here are some tips to keep in mind while on the road:

Drive Slowly

Driving slowly is the golden rule when navigating icy roads.

The speed limit signs are designed for ideal conditions, but ice and snow are most certainly not that.

Traction is greatly reduced, meaning it takes longer to stop and it’s easier to skid out of control.

Therefore, driving at a slower pace allows for better control and reaction time in case of sudden obstacles or slippery patches.

Maintain a Safe Distance

As mentioned before, it takes longer to stop on ice and snow-covered roads.

Hence, it is recommended to increase your following distance at least two to three times the normal distance between vehicles.

This will provide ample time for you to react in case the car in front of you suddenly brakes or skids.  

Avoid Harsh Braking or Acceleration

Abrupt braking or acceleration can cause a loss of traction and lead to skidding on icy roads.

Instead, gradually ease into both braking and accelerating to maintain control of your vehicle.

If you do start to slide, remember not to panic and gently steer in the direction you want the car to go while slowly releasing the accelerator.

Avoid Cruise Control

While cruise control is convenient for long drives, it is not recommended to use in icy conditions.

Using cruise control can make it difficult to adjust your speed quickly if the road conditions change suddenly, leading to loss of control.

Use Gears Wisely

Using gears wisely is a vital skill when navigating icy roads, particularly in a manual vehicle which offers more control over gear changes.

When braking, shifting to a lower gear can assist in slowing the vehicle without over-relying on the brakes, reducing the risk of skidding.

Conversely, if you start to slide, shifting into a higher gear can help minimise wheel spin.

Automatic vehicles often have a ‘winter mode’ which adjusts engine and gear settings for optimal control in icy conditions.

If you reside in an area where icy roads are a regular occurrence, investing in a four-wheel drive vehicle with a manual transmission could be beneficial.

It’s important to note, powering up hills can lead to problems, and if possible, avoid stopping while going uphill as the lack of momentum can result in the vehicle becoming stuck.

Handling Emergency Situations

Even with the best preparation and driving habits, sometimes unexpected emergencies can occur on icy roads.

In these situations, it’s essential to keep calm and take appropriate action.

Here are some tips for handling common winter driving emergencies:

Skidding

If your vehicle starts to skid, remember not to panic and avoid slamming on the brakes. Instead, gently steer in the direction you want the car to go and slowly release the accelerator.

If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS), apply steady pressure on the brake pedal until the car comes to a complete stop.

Black Ice

Black ice is a thin layer of transparent ice that can be challenging to spot and extremely dangerous on roads. It often forms in shady areas such as bridges, overpasses or near trees.

If you encounter black ice while driving, avoid sudden movements or braking and try to maintain a steady speed. If you start to slide, remember not to panic and gently steer in the direction you want the car to go while slowly releasing the accelerator.

Blizzards or Whiteouts

Blizzards and whiteout conditions can significantly reduce visibility on the road. In these cases, it is essential to slow down and use your fog lights or low beam headlights to increase visibility.

If the conditions become too dangerous, try to pull over safely and wait for the storm to pass before continuing on your journey.

Breakdowns

In the unfortunate event of a breakdown on icy roads, it is important to keep yourself and passengers safe while waiting for assistance.

Here are some tips to follow:

  • Move your vehicle as far off the road as possible to avoid obstructing traffic.
  • Turn on hazard lights to alert other drivers of your presence.
  • Stay inside your vehicle with seatbelts fastened until help arrives.
  • Keep a survival kit in your car with essentials such as a blanket, water, snacks and a flashlight.
  • If you must exit the vehicle, make sure to wear high visibility clothing and stay on the side of the road away from traffic.

Also Read: What To Do If You Break Down on The Motorway?

Conclusion

Winter driving can be challenging but following these tips can help ensure a safe journey for you and your passengers.

Always remember to adjust your driving habits, be prepared for emergencies and stay calm in difficult situations.

By taking extra precautions and being aware of potential hazards on the road, you can significantly reduce the risk of accidents while driving in icy conditions.

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