Driving in Icy Winter Conditions

by Gerry Buckley of Drive2Arrive.com

Ice Road Truckers, you have seen the series on TV, now you are living the reality. Our winters have been mostly wet and windy with very little frost and snow, only on the odd morning might we find freezing road conditions but alas we have made up for this in the last three weeks with chronic arctic conditions which most Irish drivers have never experienced in their driving life. What do we do, there is no driving school that can take you through the experience of driving in heavy blizzard like conditions or what to do when you take a slide on black ice, skidding un-controllably. With weather conditions such as these, make sure you have the right cover by visiting sites like FBD car insurance

Black Ice

The most dangerous obstacle we can meet on these conditions is black ice; most drivers will not recognise it in time to avoid a bad skid and usually found on secondary roads. Road surfaces freeze when air temperatures drops. One of the places to watch for this condition is on bridges. Bridge surfaces are exposed to the wind underneath as on top and cool off faster than the rest of normal road surfaces. You should also watch out for black ice on roads with shaded areas where a cold wind can freeze a wet road surface. The best advice for driving in bad winter weather is not to drive at all if you can avoid it but alas we cannot cocoon ourselves so we have to brave the elements. So be prepared and know what to expect and what to and not to do is the answer.


You might ask the question what is Black Ice,

Black Ice is a nearly transparent ice that looks like a harmless puddle. Black ice forms when snow melts and refreezes on the surface of the road, most commonly on Bridges, underpasses or shaded areas. It is more dangerous than regular ice because it is hard to see. A major sign of black ice is the presence of dark patches during freezing conditions. If you drive through black ice you will find it impossible to break so remember to leave plenty of room between you and the vehicle in front, to give you time to react to unforeseen events. If you need to brake do so gently, harsh braking will send your vehicle into a spin. If your car does go into a skid, take your foot off the accelerator; turn your steering wheel in the direction of the skid, if circumstances permit. Although it feels wrong, this will help you get your car back on track. (NOTE ON THIS MANOUVRE:-provided circumstances permit and you have space to do so and you are not veering into the path of oncoming traffic)

Although, to a degree, the condition of the vehicle and the road surface may contribute to a skid, the main cause is, without any doubt, the driver, yes you the driver, using harsh acceleration, harsh or sudden braking or rough and choppy steering or driving at excessive speeds for the prevailing conditions. Remember your speed should be reduced considerably under these arctic conditions.


What is Skidding:

Skidding may be defined as the involuntary movement of a vehicle due to the grip of the tyres on the road becoming less than the force or forces acting on the vehicle. In other words a vehicle skids when one or more of the tyres looses normal grip on the road. Excessive speed for the existing road conditions is the basic cause. If you are moving off from a stationary position be very very gentle on the accelerator to avoid wheel spin, how many times have you seen vehicles trying to move off and the wheels spinning out of control and the car going nowhere only getting bogged down more. You the driver are to blame. Either lack of Observation or Training or Ignorance to proper Driving Skills are the problem.


Safety Devices Fitted to Vehicles

Most modern vehicles are now fitted with active safety devices, such as, Anti Lock Braking Systems (ABS) If you brake too hard, ABS prevents the wheels from locking up. Traction Control Systems (TCS) If you accelerate too harshly, traction control prevents the wheel from excessive spinning, and Electronic Stability Control (ESC) If you steer too sharply, electronic stability control can help prevent the resulting oversteer or understeer from developing into a skid. (understeer is the tendency of a vehicle to turn less, and oversteer is the tendency of a vehicle to turn more in response to a given turn of the steering wheel) These devices have made driving way safer but technology offers no miracles, they are not a replacement for proper driving skills.

What do I do if my vehicle is not fitted with these devices?

A vehicle can develop three types of skid. Rear wheel skid, front wheel skid and four wheel skid.


How to Correct a Rear Wheel Skid.

In a rear wheel skid you feel the back of the vehicle swing out on a corner or

bend. Remedy:-

• As soon as you feel the back of the car swing, remove the cause. Release

the accelerator or, de-clutch and release the accelerator.

• Steer in the direction of the skid until the rear of the vehicle stops sliding

and the tyres regain their grip.

• Gently steer the car back on course. (NOTE:- Do not overreact or the

vehicle may skid in the opposite direction, especially if it is a rear wheel

drive vehicle.)

• When it is safe to do so, gently apply power.


How to Correct a Front Wheel Skid

In a front wheel skid you feel the front of the vehicle carry straight on when you are expecting to steer left or right. Remedy:-

• As soon as you feel the vehicle starting to understeer, remove the cause

• Release the accelerator, or de-clutch and release the accelerator.

• The natural reaction is to continue to steer to try and regain the original

course, but if circumstances permit, steer in the direction of the skid to

allow the tyres to regain grip. Once this happens, steer the vehicle back on


• Once back on course, apply power gently.


How to Correct a Four Wheel Skid.

Usually the result of excessive or sudden braking, causing all four wheels to lose grip on the road surface, you feel a lightness and complete loss of direction as the vehicle slides. Remedy:-

• Remove the cause by releasing the brakes.

• Release the accelerator or declutch and release the accelerator. This allows

the wheels to rotate and the tyres to regain their grip. At the same time

steer in the direction you want the vehicle to go.

• When it is safe to do so apply gentle power.


Basic Driving Tips for Driving on Poor Road Conditions

• Slow Down.

• Gentle on Accelerator

• Gentle on Brakes

• Gentle on Steering

• Anticipate and plan, adjust your driving to the existing road and weather


• Leave plenty of room to manoeuvre.

• Leave maximum distance between you and the vehicle in front.

• Use low revs in slippery conditions. This will avoid wheel spin, especially

when moving off. You hear lot of talk and discussion as to what gear should

be used in on icy roads.

• Use a Higher Gear when travelling at low speeds in order to avoid wheel


• When travelling down a steep hill or on bends use a Lower Gear as it will

stabilise the vehicle.

• Do not use cruise control as it can cause your tyres to spin or skid.

• Never slam on your brakes, if you have to brake on ice, tap on your brakes

lightly in quick succession. (Often referred to as the Tap Dance Technique)

• Do not make any sudden movements, use your steering gently.

• Always wear your seat belt.

• Tyres in good condition and properly inflated.

• Carry a torch fully charged.

• Have High visibility jacket with you

• Always make sure your vehicle has more than enough fuel.

• Drive on dipped headlights.

• Carry your mobile phone in case of emergencies. (Only use when parked)

On a final note remember one thing regardless of the road or weather conditions, you the driver has the responsibility to drive and control your vehicle in such a manner that it does not contribute to a road traffic collision. You will receive no sympathy for being ignorant of the hazards pertaining to arctic driving conditions if you are a contributory factor in a road traffic collision. When you sit behind the wheel of a mechanically propelled vehicle – you take responsibility for your actions, you cannot blame the conditions of the road or the weather. So drive with restraint and observation.


GENTLE on the ABS:- ACELERATOR, BRAKES, STEERING and survive the winter.


©Gerry Buckley (drive2arrive.com) 2010

Gerry Buckley is a retired Garda Driving Instructor from the Garda College, Templemore and qualified as a Class 1 Police Driving Instructor at the Scottish Police College.

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