Winter, some of us love it, and others hate it. We all love the snow, when we get it that is, but icy conditions make it a tough time of year for most drivers, as temperatures drop to below zero leading to dangerous road conditions.
The two main hazards to look out for are Black Ice and Hail, but being well prepared and driving appropriately will help you with staying safe on the roads.
What is Black Ice?
It is a thin layer of ice that is on the road that just covers the top surface of the streets. Due to it being light and smooth, it is also transparent and therefore appears the same colour as the road; hence it is called ‘black’ ice. This makes it almost invisible to most drivers and makes it much more dangerous.
If a road is covered in Black ice, it will appear with a glossy shine, which you more likely to see during the day when the sunlight reflects on it or at night with lighting and headlights shining on it. Areas that are more shaded, such as bridges, flyovers and tunnels are likely to have more black ice as they are not exposed to as much sunlight, which would allow the ice to melt away.
Another way to know is other vehicles swerving for no reason. So, if the temperature is low and the road looks as if it is wet be careful and drive with care! Should you hit any Black Ice, first and foremost, do not panic! Do your best to keep the steering wheel straight and come off your pedals, do not try and press the brakes or accelerator, allow your car to slow on its own. If you need to slow down use your gears but avoid sudden movements that could make the car unstable.
How Can You Prepare for Driving on Black Ice:
The first thing to consider: is your journey essential? Do your tyres have the right amount of tread depth and are they safe and legal? Tyre grip reduces largely on icy roads, and the braking distances are much longer.
10 Checks Before Heading off on Your Journey:
- Ensure your mobile phone is fully charged, have a charge pack or in-car charger in your car
- Have a full bottle of water
- Pack some snacks
- Keep a warm blanket in the car
- You could also think about investing in some snow socks for your car, these are high grip fabric covers that fit over your vehicles drive wheels if it looks likely to snow
- Always make sure friends or family know the route you will be taking and the time you expect to be there
- Vehicle checks, make sure the windows and mirrors are completely clear before setting off
- Ensure you top up the screen wash and keep some spare in the boot
- If you have a car that has a selectable driving mode, make sure to select the one best for icy and cold conditions
- If you are planning a few days away, make sure to keep an eye on the local weather of where you will be and consider using the Met Office to check if there will be icy conditions for your trip, so you are prepared when you arrive there!
As with all conditions, anticipation and smooth driving are vital to driving on icy roads.
Always look well ahead and plan for the potential hazards as well as the usual things to look out for include patches of ice also keep your speed down.
Use the controls of the car correctly, as smooth as possible when using the accelerator, brake, steering and change gear as smoothly as possible to reduce the risk of skidding. Using a higher gear may be used to aid grip on ice, this makes it easier to find traction in a manual car, finding the biting point and bringing it up slowly to prevent wheel spin and stalling. In an automatic, you can choose to use second gear with the gear select to pull away.
What Is the Braking Distance on Ice?
Not everyone knows that there are different braking distances for different conditions we drive in. The braking distance on ice should be at least ten times as great as on a dry road. This means you should leave up to 10 times the usual recommended gap between you and the car in front. Remember, take extra care as tyres have less grip and efficiency in cold conditions. Winter tyres can offer more grip but do some research into them before just going out and spending money on them.
Correcting a Skid on Ice
If you do encounter a skid, steer gently into it. For example, if the rear of the car is sliding to the right, steer to the right. And as above, do not take your hands off the steering wheel or brake hard.
How to Drive in Hail
Driving in a hailstorm is scary and frightening but also extremely dangerous. Not only will it harm you if you are out in it but it can also damage your car. Hail impairs visibility and can even crack the windows of your car in extremely heavy conditions. If the hailstorm is severe, the advice is to stop driving and pull over somewhere safe such as under a bridge if you can. However, on a motorway or dual carriageway, this may not be possible, so slow down and take care. Windscreens are reinforced to withstand pelting objects and, although they do have tolerance, will crack eventually. Moreover, side windows and back windows are not strengthened and are much more likely to break.
Always take care when driving, no matter the conditions. Your safety is most important, so arrive alive!