Driving on ice is one of the most stressful and dangerous challenges presented by winter conditions. Not only does ice on the road significantly reduce your vehicle’s ability to find traction — even with a modern electronic-stability-control system and good winter tires — but it can also affect your visibility as a driver, as well as the functionality of the advanced-safety systems outfitted to your car.
Here are three ways that ice can impact your winter drive, along with tips on how to mitigate the dangers of each.
It might seem obvious, but if your windshield is covered in ice, then it’s going to be difficult to see the road ahead. What’s more, sometimes freezing rain or accumulated slush can pile up on your glass to the point where your windshield wipers and defrost system simply aren’t up to the task of cracking through it and clearing it off.
This is why it’s important to always have a good snow brush and scraper in your vehicle during the winter months, so you can use a little elbow grease to clear off thick ice before hitting the road. Remember to clear not just the windshield, but also the side and rear glass for maximum visibility. You may also want to consider clearing the sensors associated with blind spot monitoring and other active safety systems on your car — if these are covered in ice, they won’t be able to function while you’re driving.
2. Low-Speed Traction
Almost everyone who has to deal with winter driving has had the experience of spinning their tires trying to leave a parking spot only to discover a layer of ice under the top coating of snow. If you find yourself stuck in ice while driving out of a parking lot, your own driveway or the side of the road, it’s helpful to have a traction aid sitting in the trunk to give you the grip you need. These metal or plastic devices fit in front of or behind the wheel that’s spinning and dig down into the ice, allowing the tire to clamber over their slotted design as they press down into the frozen ground.
3. On the Road
Driving on ice on the open road is the most hazardous winter condition of all, especially if you’re traveling at a high speed. Hitting a patch of ice and discovering that your vehicle is no longer steering or braking in a predictable manner is often cause for panic, but the key to dealing with these situations is to stay calm and reduce your speed by slowly lifting your foot off of the accelerator. Avoid yanking your right foot back, as that could cause your vehicle to spin in a low-traction situation.
Likewise, don’t slam on the brakes, as even an anti-lock system won’t be able to help you maintain control on a patch of ice. The slower you’re traveling, the easier it will be to either pull over to the side of the road and assess the situation, or get through the patch of ice safely.
Follow these tips and you’ll have the visibility, traction and safe-driving skills you’ll need to make it through icy road conditions without worry.
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Photo courtesy of Flickr.
Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time. I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.