Driving safely in icy conditions


The cold winter months bring along the much loved festive season, but also hazardous driving conditions. Dark nights, slippery roads and extreme weather increase the risk of having an accident or damaging your car. Whether you’re rushing around finishing off your Christmas shopping or driving to a friend’s house for a New Year’s Party, follow these tips we’ve put together to ensure you stay safe while driving in difficult conditions.

Before you begin your journey

  • Keep an eye on local weather updates and check traffic reports in your area.
  • Main roads are more likely to have been gritted, try and use these if possible.
  • Avoid secondary roads or high ground where possible as roads here tend to be more icy.
  • Let somebody know about your journey and estimated arrival time.
  • Make sure your mobile is charged before you leave and take some food and drink with you.

Checking your vehicle

  • Tyres – Tyre pressure is extremely important, particularly in colder weather when tyre pressure decreases and consequently affects traction. When the tyres are cold, check their pressure and ensure this matches the manufacturer’s specifications (you can find these in the manual or on the door pillar).
    Thread depth should be more or less 3mm. The deeper the thread, the more efficient it’ll be in clearing water on the roads and gripping the road surface properly.
  • Windows – Before you venture out, make sure you clear your windows with a screen scraper and de-icer (also take these with you). Using hot water on the windscreen is not recommended, this could crack the glass. Quickly check the wipers to see if they are in a good condition and, when filling up the screen wash, ensure you are using one with the right additive.
  • Lights – Ensure all the lights are working and check the direction of the headlights. If there is any dirt or snow on the lights, remove this to optimise their performance.
  • Fuel – It’s always best that to ensure you have enough fuel in the tank, just in case you need to re-route at any point.
  • Identify how much ground clearance your vehicle has, this is the distance between the bottom of a car tyre and the bottom of the chassis.
  • Make sure you know whether your car is front or rear-wheel drive. Front-wheel drive vehicles handle the ice and snow far better than rear-wheel vehicles. The latter tend to slide excessively in corners.

If you get into a skid, you need to know if your vehicle has ABS (Anti- Lock Braking Systems).

  • After you “Step” on the brake the ABS begins cycling, you will feel pulses in the pedal or hear the system working. It’s easy to properly use antilock brakes. Remember the following three steps:
    • Step on the brake pedal,
    • Stay on the brake pedal,
    • Steer around the obstacle. (Warning: A little bit of steering goes a very long way in an emergency and be very carefully to avoid a potential head on collision if you try to manoeuvre around a hazard).
  • For vehicles without ABS, you will need to use an advanced driver technique called ‘Cadence Braking’. This means you should push the brake pedal until the wheels stop rolling, then immediately release the brake enough to allow the wheels to begin turning again. Repeat this sequence rapidly – in effect pumping the brake pedal. The goal is to have the tyres producing maximum grip regardless of whether the surface is snow or ice.
  • Does your vehicle have traction control (TCS/TC)? If it does, make sure this is turned on.

Tips for a safe drive

  • Turn your headlights on, even during the day
  • When you pull off, do so in second gear to avoid wheel spin
  • Drive in the highest gear possible, but at the slowest speed when on the flat. Accelerate gently and when breaking do so very gently and gradually to avoid skidding
  • In downhill stretches, use 3rd or 4th gear and chose a low gear when going round bends,
    When the road is covered in ice or snow, it takes ten times the distance to stop compared to normal. In traffic, leave at least a car length gaps between you and the car in front
  • Try not to overtake when roads are icy, as your control over the car is limited in these conditions
  • Attempt to always drive in the highest gear possible when on the flat
  • Those who own automatic vehicles should have a look at the Manual Override function. Doing so will enable you to select the right gear in order to avoid braking, which may lead to skidding
  • Roads shaded by trees and buildings may be particularly dangerous as, due to sun ray’s not reaching them, the ice may have not thawed here while it has in other areas. Shaded areas are normally where black ice can be found. Take care when driving on hilly and exposed roads, as ice forms here more easily
  • Start slowing down early. Your break lights will indicate you are doing so and following traffic will consequently do the same
  • Slow down around turns to reduce the chance of skidding
  • If you were to start spinning/skidding, don’t move the steering wheel abruptly. Instead turn the wheel lightly in the same direction as the skid
  • Ultimately, although you may be driving slower than you normally would in icy conditions, at 30kph you’re still going at a decent pace

It’s easy to become frustrated and impatient when driving in more difficult conditions than normal. Remember to keep an eye on your driving; anger, frustration and impatience won’t get you to your destination any faster. Like the age old story of the hare and tortoise, slow and steady wins the race or, in this case, gets you there safe.