15 Jan Avoid Slip-Ups in The New Year — Tips for Driving in Icy Conditions
The early January deep freeze that gripped the Eastern U.S. and Canada is a reminder that now is the time to review how to drive safely in icy conditions
With the New Year just arriving, there’s still time to make resolutions, and here’s one every driver should make: commit to driving safely now and throughout the rest of the year —particularly in hazardous conditions like snow and ice.
The deep freeze that gripped the Eastern U.S. and Canada in the New Year reminder of how treacherous winter driving can be, illustrated by the 100-plus car and truck pile up on the New York State thruway outside of Buffalo, N.Y., on January 2.
While slick conditions can transform a routine morning commute or a sales route to a white-knuckled drive, this doesn’t have to be the case. (Sorry, I just don’t want to call it a pulse-pounding thrill ride – some people [like me] might enjoy that.) (The other edit is just to avoid ending with a preposition.)
Take it Easy
It’s not uncommon to feel anxious about driving in icy or snowy conditions, and the natural inclination may be to drive more aggressively to get to your destination — don’t.
Instead, the best course of action is to take it easy. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) offers the following Do’s and Don’ts to drive safely in icy conditions:
- Do: Before getting on the roads when it is cold and wet, check the weather conditions.
- Do: Be cautious. Slow down and increase following distance.
- Do: Stay calm and let your vehicle pass over black ice.
- Do: Lift your foot off the accelerator.
- Don’t: Hit the brakes, and keep your steering wheel steady.
- Don’t: Overcorrect your steering if you feel your car sliding.
Icy Driving Basics
Fundamentally, you should slow down and increase following to distance from the normal three to four seconds to eight to 10 seconds. Typically, a slow-and-steady driving speed and increased following distance will be enough to keep you safe while driving on an icy road.
In addition, the AAA recommends adopting so-called emergency steering methods when driving in icy conditions. There are two methods that you can employ:
- The push-pull-slide method of steering involves shuffling your hands so that neither hand crosses over the imaginary line between 12 and 6 o’clock. Since your arms never cross, you are able to make continuous adjustments in either direction
- The fixed-hand steering method allows rapid 180-degree steering in either direction, but, according to the AAA, has one shortcoming. This method is confining in that your arms may get locked together as you attempt to steer past 180 degrees, limiting your ability to make fine adjustments
Braking in icy conditions can be tricky and cause your vehicle to skid. Keep in mind that braking distance is twice as long in 0-degree conditions then it does at 32 degrees. In addition to increasing your following distance, you should also increase your attention even further ahead—recommends the AAA—at least 20 to 30 seconds. This should give you sufficient time to brake safely.
If you don’t have anti-lock brakes, place the heel of your foot on the floor and use your ankle muscles to control your foot’s pressure on the brake pedal, applying steady pressure to the “threshold” of locking, but continue to let the tires spin just enough to avoid fully skidding out. If you have an anti-lock braking system (ABS), do not remove your foot from the brake, and do not pump it — pumping the brake will cause the brakes to not work properly.
In the event of a skid — often caused when you apply too much pressure on the brakes or accelerate too quickly — remain calm, keep your eyes on the road, steer in the direction you want to go, and avoid slamming on the brakes.
- For a rear-wheel skid, oversteer to remain in control and continue to steer to avoid a rear-wheel skid in the opposite direction.
- For a front-wheel skid, understeer and wait for the front wheels to grip the road. As soon as traction returns, the vehicle will respond to steering, and you can steer gently in the desired direction of travel.
Ultimately, driving in icy conditions requires a combination of remaining calm, cool, and collected to stay safe.