The first time driving on Ice
What would suggest you're driving on ice?
An important question - as it’s one that is used in the driving theory test! Most of the time ice on the road is visible, and you’ll know that it’s there, but it’s not always obvious that you’re driving on ice, and before you know what to do when you’re driving on ice, you need to know how to tell that you’re on an icy road.
If the road is fully frozen over, you should notice a sparkle as it reflects the sunlight, but if you’re driving at night or on black ice the visual cues might not be there.
It's worth pointing out that if you’re driving in winter and it’s 0°C or colder then you should assume that it’s likely you’ll be driving on ice at some point in your journey, and change your driving style accordingly.
You should then turn your music down, or off, and listen to the sound of your wheels. If your tyres are making no noise at all then it's very possible you'll be driving on ice.
What if you’re just too scared to leave the house when it’s icy?
Honestly, there's nothing wrong with that. Driving in ice is daunting, and lots of people, even those with years and years of driving experience under their belts still find it a little scary.
Our advice is to drive with a friend or parent who has more driving experience than you. Take it slow, follow the rest of the tips in this guide and you should be fine.
Also, remember to always put your mental health first. If you’re going to find it too stressful, then don't do it. Find alternative travel arrangements (or stay in with a movie and some chocolate) and try again another day.
At what temperature are icy roads most slippery?
Roads are at their most icy (and most dangerous) when the outside temperature is between 0oC to -3oC. So before setting off, check the temperature, and if it's just below freezing you’ll know to take extra care.
Should you drive in high or low gear when driving on ice?
Stay in a higher gear for better control, and, if it is slippery, in a manual car move off in a higher gear, rather than just using first. If you are behind another vehicle at night keep well back and avoid, using their lights to see the road ahead, as this could cause you to drive dangerously close. Where you may use the 2-second-rule to maintain a safe distance in good conditions, you should increase this by 10 times to 20 seconds between you and the car in front to keep a safe distance when driving on ice..
What is meant by ‘steer into the skid’?
The phrase is used a lot, but many people don't really understand what it means in practice.
If you're driving on ice and your car begins to skid anti-clockwise (to the left) you should steer to the left as well, so you’re straightening yourself. If you grab your steering wheel and freeze, then you’re leaving your fate to physics, so you want to try to gently take over some control. If you do start to skid, it’s crucial that you do not brake - this may be your first reaction but if you brake when skidding, you can lose control of the car completely.
Sometimes however, steering into the skid doesn't work. In that case, straighten your wheels. This can sometimes help them gain traction and get you back in control.
How do you control a skid in an automatic car?
It's actually not too different from a manual.
- Stay focussed and calm
- Ease off the accelerator but do not brake
- Steer into the skid (see above)
A lot of modern cars (automatic and manual) come with a traction control feature which should kick in here should you start to skid.
The first time driving in snow
Are snow tyres worth it?
This depends on a couple of factors, how cold the winter is going to be, and how often/far you're going to be driving. If you’re commuting for an hour every morning right through winter, then they’re probably worth it. If you pop to the shop one afternoon a week, then they may not be the best investment however, they will keep you safer even on the shorter journeys.
Winter tyres improve your car's performance on ice and snow, but if its a particularly mild winter, or you only drive a couple of miles once or twice a week, they might not be worth the money.
Snow tyres (which aren’t just useful for snowy conditions) are most effective when temperatures drop below 7 Degrees Celsius, which happens regularly in the UK.
It is a bit of a misconception that because we don't have winters like Canada or Norway, cold weather types are pointless in the UK. They're not. They provide better grip in wet, dry, ice and snow and in turn offer better control of the car.
Is it more difficult driving an automatic car in snow?
In short. Yes. This is because you have less control over the gears. Fortunately many automatic cars come with L, 2 or +/- controls which allow you to manually change gear. In which case, much like in a manual, you should override your automatic gears and get into a higher gear. Sometimes, however, they don't have this feature. A lot of automatic cars have very intuitive traction control to try to compensate for this. But if you have neither then the key is to be super gentle. Ease on the accelerator, ease on the brake, and accept your journey is going to take much longer than usual.
Is front wheel drive better in snow?
It depends what you're comparing against. Front wheel drive cars perform vastly better than rear wheel drive cars do in the snow. The weight of the engine is sitting right on top of the driver wheels (this is also why they perform well driving uphill). All wheel drives however do have an increased performance on front and rear wheel drives, but they’re far less common in the UK.