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Tips for driving on ice

Tips for driving on ice

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Written by  Collette Shackleton
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Reviewed by  Saarrah Mussa
5 min read
Updated: 07 Feb 2024

Driving on ice can be very dangerous, so it’s crucial that you are prepared and know what to do in advance when driving in icy conditions. Read our guide to find out how to drive safely on ice.

How do you drive when it’s icy?

While icy roads can be challenging for drivers, following precautions and preparing yourself using our guide will help you enjoy a safe and comfortable journey.

Preparing to drive on ice

Before you set off, it's important to prepare your car for the upcoming icy journey. Here are some ways you can prepare to drive on ice:

  • Consider if your journey is really necessary, or whether you can wait until the ice melts away to make the trip

  • Check your tyre pressure and tread depth to help maximise your road grip before driving on icy roads

  • Before you leave home, make sure your mobile phone is charged sufficiently, and pack some snacks and a blanket in your car

  • Dress for the weather, wearing layers and a thick coat will help if you need to leave your car during your trip

  • Communicate with your close ones and let them know which route you're planning on taking and your estimated destination arrival

  • Ensure your car windows, mirrors, headlights, and registration plate are completely clear of any ice or snow before setting off

  • Many modern cars have built-in options to help you drive safely on the ice, make sure these are enabled before you set off

  • Have your car insurance documents, breakdown cover details, and licence safe and accessible if you need to call for breakdown assistance

How to identify and avoid ice

In dark and wintry conditions, it can hard to spot ice, especially black ice, thinner layer of ice, which looks wet and blends into the road. However, there are ways to look out for this when you're driving.

If the temperature has dropped below 4°C, you should prepare yourself for icy, slippery conditions. You can usually locate the temperature on your dashboard.

Ice is often more likely to appear in covered parts of the road, such as under bridges or trees, and fallen leaves can cover up ice and prevent it from thawing, so take extra care when driving through these types of areas.

Driving on icy roads - tips to help you stay safe

  • Look further ahead for potential hazards, such as patches of ice, other vehicles, and pedestrians

  • Turn off the music in your car, this will help you concentrate on the road, but also if your tyres are silent, that is a sign you could be driving on ice

  • Travel slower than the speed limit and give yourself extra time when turning corners or pulling into or out of a road

  • Try to drive as smoothly as possible to reduce the risk of skidding, this include braking, steering, accelerating, and changing gears

  • Consider driving in a higher gear to help get a better grip on the icy road

  • Avoid accelerating or braking heavily if you start to aquaplane, and let the car slow down naturally instead

How do you stop skidding on ice?

If you start skidding on ice, here is what you should do:

  1. Try not to panic - remaining calm while driving will help you handle the situation safely

  2. Turn into the skid - turning the wheel gently in the direction you're skidding in will straighten out your car and help prevent any further skidding

  3. Don't brake or accelerate - trying to stop the car would make things worse, as will increasing your speed, which can be very dangerous in this scenario

What to do if your car starts losing grip of the road   

Most modern cars now have built-in technology to help prevent you skidding, but if your car starts to lose control, you'll see an amber light or snowflake icon flashing on your dashboard, telling you you're going too fast for the road conditions.

If you feel like you're losing control, gradually slow down using your gears rather than your breaks and double the distance between yourself and the vehicle in front of you.

What gear should you drive in on icy roads?

If you're driving on an icy road, a higher gear may be more appropriate to help you get a good grip on the ice.

You should attempt to set off in second gear, rather than first, or engage the winter driving mode function on your car, which will help your car find traction on the road sooner.

What is the braking distance on ice?

When driving on ice, everything should be slow and steady, including your braking distance. Depending on the road conditions, braking distances on ice should be up to 10 times the normal distance to help prevent any accidents.

How to drive uphill on ice

Similar to driving on normal roads, reducing your speed and making slow and gentle movements when attempting to drive uphill on ice will help you manage it safely.

Avoid any wheel spinning when pulling away by choosing second gear and easing your foot off the clutch.

If possible, it helps to select your gear in advance, which will mean you won't have to change down when going uphill. Once moving, try to keep a consistent speed once you're going uphill.

Driving on ice in an automatic

The same rules apply regardless whether you're driving a manual or an automatic car on in icy conditions. Avoiding any drastic movements on the road will help keep you safe.

Some automatic cars will let you select second gear, which will help you set off on ice and maintain a slow and steady speed. This is also useful if you're going uphill on an icy road in an automatic vehicle.

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