All you need to know about driving in ice conditions

Wintery weather is upon us, more severely - or so it seems - than in recent years, which makes it even more important that we ensure that our driving and our vehicles are checked and serviced professionally as well as maintained properly by ourselves.

In any event of snow and ice, it is always advisable to firstly consider if your journey is essential. If it is, then there are various thoughts and preparations that you should make.

If you have to make a journey when heavy snow is forecast, make sure you have warm clothes, food, water, boots, a torch and spade, and let someone know when you expect to arrive and your route. It may seem a bit extreme but also consider taking an emergency kit of de-icer and ice scraper, first aid kit, jump leads, together with a warm drink and emergency food in case you get stuck or your vehicle breaks down.

Check the local weather forecast for warnings of icy or snowy weather, and allow more time for your journey. Before you set off, you have to ensure that your vehicle is suitable for you to be able to see, so clear snow and ice from all your windows, check that all lights are clean and your number plates are clearly legible. Once your mirrors are clear and the windows are demisted thoroughly, remove all snow that might fall off into the path of other road users. Check that your planned route is clear of delays and that no further snowfalls or severe weather are forecast. Be prepared for the road conditions to change over reasonably short distances.

Driving Tips


On your journey, always drive with slowly and with care, even if the roads have been treated. Always use your lower beam when driving in an ice or snow storm, it gives better visibility. Keep well back from the vehicle in front - about 3 car-lengths is ample - as stopping distances can be ten times greater than on dry roads. When overtaking vehicles, always be extra careful and allow extra room. Use the highest gear possible to avoid wheel spin. Manoeuvre gently, avoiding harsh braking or acceleration. If you start to skid, gently ease off the accelerator without braking if possible. If braking is necessary, pump the brakes - don't slam them on. On bends, brake progressively on the straight before you reach a bend, when you've slowed down, steer smoothly round the bend, avoiding sudden movements. Be aware of snowploughs and gritters which may throw out snow or salt on either side. Do not overtake them unless the lane you intend to use has been cleared. If your steering feels unresponsive it may mean that ice is on the roads and your vehicle is losing its grip on the road.

Beware of Black Ice!


A good point to remember is that when on ice, tyres make very little noise. Black ice is always the most dangerous. It is ice that has remained on the roads and not been subjected to direct sunlight. Black ice commonly forms on the bends of roads, those that wind around lakes and rivers, in tunnels, on overpasses and in highly shaded, rural areas. Black ice is almost invisible to the naked eye. Be especially wary when driving your car into shaded areas, and slow your vehicle down during your approach.

It is easy to forget that not all cars respond the same to these driving conditions, so it is best to know how to handle your car & to understand how it may respond in various weather conditions. It may sound daft, but flick through your owner's manual, just to take in the vehicle's braking system & tyre traction, it will then be easier to follow safety guidelines. Front wheel drive vehicles handle better than rear wheel drive on slippery roads the majority of the time, but there are disadvantages to both. This is because the weight of the engine is on the drive wheels, which helps to improve your traction.

If you have an Anti-lock braking system (ABS) it will offer significant advantages on slick roads, if you use it correctly. To operate ABS effectively, motorists should apply steady pressure to the brake pedal during the entire stop. ABS will automatically pump the brakes, to keep the wheels from locking. Never manually pump ABS brakes yourself. Apply only steady pressure continuously until you come to a complete stop.
If you don't have ABS, you should gently apply pumping pressure to your brakes during slippery conditions. Do not apply steady pressure to your brakes. Standing on your brakes will only cause wheel lock, and may result in your car spinning out of control.

Handling a Skid


With front wheel drive & rear wheel drive, skidding on slick, icy or snow covered roads is the biggest risk. However it is possible to steer out of a skid. Once you feel your car beginning to skid, slowly take your foot off the accelerator, until you feel your wheels regain traction control. (Do not attempt to brake!) As your vehicle's tyres grip again, slowly turn the steering wheel in the direction you want your front wheels to go. With rear wheel drive, when you begin to spin, again take your foot off the accelerator. Slowly steer in the direction you want the car to go. If you are still skidding out of control, counter-steer until your vehicle is pointing in the right direction. Never apply steady pressure to the brakes.

If the unfortunate does happen and you do break down, stay with your car and tie something brightly coloured to your aerial or put out your warning triangle. Call for help. Try not to, but if you do go outside wear several layers of clothing and keep dry to prevent loss of body heat. Again, it may sound extreme, but watch out for signs of hypothermia - it does happen. It may involve uncontrollable shivering, slow/slurred speech, memory lapse, drowsiness and frostbite; the loss of feeling in fingers, toes, nose and ear lobes. Keep moving your arms and legs to help the blood circulate. Keep the surrounding area around your vehicle clear of snow.