Driving on ice can be a nerve-wracking experience. It’s easy to panic if your car loses control. However, with a properly-tuned vehicle and a few safety precautions, you can navigate icy roads safely.
Prepare your vehicle
Before winter weather hits, take your car in for a tune-up. A properly-tuned vehicle will keep you safer on the road, especially in inclement weather. Most importantly, make sure your tires are properly inflated and in good condition.
Greg Seiter of the AAA Hoosier Motor Club says, “To minimize the dangers associated with winter driving, both the vehicle and the driver must be prepared in advance. For the driver, this means approaching winter driving with the right frame of mind.” This includes taking precautions like adjusting your speed to match the visibility, traffic and road conditions. If possible, stay in the lane that has been cleared most recently, and avoid changing lanes because of the potential loss of control when driving over built-up snow between lanes.
One of the scariest scenarios on an icy road is a slick incline. “When approaching a hill, observe how other vehicles are reacting and keep far enough behind the vehicle immediately ahead so that you will not have to slow down or stop,” Seiter says. “As you reach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed down the hill as slowly as possible. Minimize brake use on very slippery, icy hills.”
Channel driver’s ed
Remember learning about following distance? Under normal conditions, you follow three to four seconds behind another vehicle. In inclement, icy weather, that following distance should be increased to eight to 10 seconds to provide the extended distance you need if you have to stop.
When things go wrong
The first step, according to Seiter? Don’t panic. “Snowy or icy surfaces make steering difficult and require smooth, careful, precise movements of the steering wheel," Seiter says. "Skidding — in which the front or rear moves laterally — is caused by hard acceleration or braking, speeds too fast for conditions and quick, jerky movements of the steering wheel."
There are two ways your car can slip on ice: a rear-wheel skid or a front-wheel skid. During a rear-wheel skid, Seiter instructs, “Continue to look at your path of travel down the road. Steer in the direction you want the front of the vehicle to go. Avoid slamming on the brakes. Doing so will only further upset the vehicle’s balance and make it harder to regain control. When the rear wheels stop skidding, continue to steer to avoid a rear-wheel skid in the opposite direction.” In a front-wheel skid, follow the same instructions, but wait for the front wheels to grip the road again before attempting to steer the wheels in the desired direction.