How to drive in snow and ice

How to drive in snow and ice 23rd February 2015

Driving in winter can be more hazardous than at any other time of the year. With snow and ice on the surface, it becomes more difficult to handle the vehicle, and the risk of accidents increases greatly as people not au fait with how to deal with conditions lose control of their vehicles. 

According to governmental figures available for the winter of late 2012, there were nearly 5,000 injuries caused on the roads when snow or ice was present, which indicates just how dangerous this time of year can be. So what's the best way to deal with the issues you come across to stay safe on snow and ice?

How to drive in snow and ice

The first thing you should always ask yourself before you head out in snowy or icy conditions is whether your journey is necessary. If it's not entirely essential, you should choose to stay at home instead. If you do need to travel, the Met Office advises sticking to main routes only, and taking warm clothes, food, water, boots, a torch and spade in the car with you in case you should get stuck.

When on the road in these conditions, it's best to simply take your time. According to the Met Office, it takes ten times as long to stop on roads that are icy or snow covered, and it can be easy to lose control of the vehicle. Therefore slowing down and always accelerating and braking gently will give you far less chance of having an accident. Driving in a lower gear will also mean there's less chance of the vehicle wheel spinning. 

If it's snowy, you can also improve your safety by driving in tracks left by the cars in front of you, rather than on fresh snow. Should you skid on ice or snow, the best way to react is to stay calm. Braking sharply will only make the problem worse, so you should refrain from using the brakes and simply steer into the skid to right yourself. 

In most situations, the best tactic for winter driving can be simply to be aware of the conditions and keep your eyes open for potential hazards. However, sometimes it's not as easy as this.

What is black ice?

Black ice is one of the most hazardous conditions on British roads, and it's caused when the temperature at surface level is at zero celsius. When rain falls at this freezing temperature, it will freeze on impact, creating a sheet of ice on the road which is nearly impossible to see, making it far more dangerous than snow or frost.

How to identify black ice

While you might not be able to see the ice itself, this doesn't mean it's impossible to identify where it is. It's all about interpreting the condition of the road surface. If it's grey, then the road is dry, but if you look at the road and it looks black or wet and your car's temperature gauge says it's below freezing, then the likelihood is that there will be black ice on the surface. 

In darker conditions, you can also look further down the road and use the reflection from your headlights. If you're getting a lot of reflection off the road, then chances are the road surface will be frozen.

What to do if you skid on ice

Skidding on black ice is much like skidding on snow. You should never try to immediately right the car, and you should never try to use the brakes. Instead, simply remain calm, ease off the accelerator and gently steer into the skid. This should allow the car to find its grip again, at which point you can rectify the direction and regain control.

Posted by Danielle Barge