If you’re driving your vehicle and encounter icy road conditions, do you know how to handle your vehicle and are you equipped to assist others?

Even the slightest bit of ice on the roads can make for treacherous driving conditions, here are some tips we’ve put together to help keep you as safe as possible on the roads this winter.

How to prepare for driving in winter

Firstly, think about whether your journey is really necessary and check projected forecasts, particularly in areas where temperatures can drop below zero. Tyre grip is hugely reduced on icy roads, so braking/stopping distances are much greater.

If travelling is essential, plan your route to avoid known affected areas. We also recommend informing relatives and friends of your intended route in case of an emergency. Always follow road rules and adapt your speed to suit the conditions.

If snowfall looks likely or this journey will be carried out often, a set of snow socks (high-grip fabric covers fitted over the car’s driving wheels), or chains are definitely worth carrying.

In cases of snow, there’s also the potential of getting your vehicle stuck which could result in a cold wait or a chilly walk home. If you don’t get stuck, the next driver might, so before you leave home make sure to pack a charged mobile phone (with a charger cable), a bottle of water, warm clothes, a few snacks and a blanket.

Make sure the car’s windows and mirrors are completely clear before you set off. And in cars with selectable drive modes, select the best option for cold conditions.

How to drive on icy roads

Anticipation and smoothness is key for driving on icy roads. Look well ahead for potential hazards, changes in road surface appearance and behaviour of other vehicles - react early and keep to a lower speed.

Accelerate, brake, steer and change gear as smoothly as possible to reduce the risk of a skid.

When setting off or driving uphill, try and use a higher gear to retain traction. Some automatics will let you select second gear at a standstill to pull away in. Once you’re travelling at a safe speed, try and use a lower gear to maintain control. In automatics, use the L, 1 or 2 position to achieve maximum engine braking control downhill.

Never drive at a speed that does not allow you to stop within the distance you can see to be clear, taking into account the amount of grip that your tyres have on the road.

What is the stopping distance on ice?

Braking distances can increase tenfold on ice compared with a dry road. For this reason, you should leave up to 10 times the normal recommended gap between your vehicle and the one in front. Remember that tyres grip less efficiently in cold conditions. So even if the temperature is above zero and there’s no ice on the road, you should take extra care. 

What is black ice?

Black ice is a thin layer of ice on the road surface. Because it is smooth and transparent, it appears the same colour as the road below it. Black ice can be almost invisible to drivers, which makes it especially dangerous. As a guide, if the temperature is low and the road surface looks ‘wet’, be careful and allow plenty of space between you and the car in front.

In the majority of cases, it’s likely you won’t see black ice at all. Be particularly cautious on shaded stretches of road, bridges, flyovers and tunnels – anywhere the surface temperature may be lower. Quiet roads are more likely to be affected.

How to correct a skid on ice

Continue to look and steer in the direction you want to go. Take your foot off the accelerator and avoid slamming on the brakes - although this might be a natural response, it will only upset the vehicle balance and make it harder to regain control. Use the gears to slow down if necessary, but avoid any sudden movements that could destabilise the car.

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