photo: MariaKraynova/iStock

The Dos and Don’ts of Driving on Icy Roads

By Mark Richardson

Driving on slippery snow and ice is a skill that should be learned and practised. When tires lose grip, it can be a challenge for you to keep everything under control.

First and foremost, AMA recommends a good set of winter tires. “The different rubber compound in winter tires allows for better traction and control,” says Rick Lang of AMA Driver Education. He adds, “Always hold the steering wheel with both hands. If you use the 9 and 3 o’clock position, you can easily straighten it out without oversteering. It’s the least fatiguing and has the most control.”

Don’t use cruise control on a slippery road. Your tires can lose their traction trying to keep to a set speed. And always brake well before any turns, so the vehicle slows down in a straight line. Leave plenty of extra room for braking.

If your car was manufactured before 2011, it may not have an anti-lock braking system (ABS), which prevents the wheels from locking and skidding. If so, push your brake pedal until it’s at the threshold of locking, and then ease up from there. You can steer if your wheels are turning, but not if they are locked.

Three things you need to know about winter tires

If you do have ABS, follow this important trick of the ice trade: Do not pump the brakes. You’re saying to the system ‘I want to stop, I don’t want to stop, I want to stop…’” Lang says. “With anti-lock brakes, as soon as you apply the brakes fully on, it tells the system, ‘the driver wants this vehicle stopped’ and it brings the vehicle to a stop.”

If you’re driving around a curve and the car slides out from the front wheels or all of them, keep a light grip on the wheel and steer in the direction you want the vehicle to go. Don’t turn the wheel too much—when the wheels catch their grip again, you don’t want to overcorrect the turn and worsen the situation.

Don’t touch the brakes if your car is skidding out. During a front-wheel skid, try to straighten the steering wheel. Let the car slow on its own. Look ahead down the road at where you want to go and that’s where you’ll steer to. When the tires have found their grip again, resume an appropriate speed—probably a little slower this time.

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