The weather plays a big role in driving safety, especially in winter. One of the most dangerous winter weather conditions for drivers is ice.
The U.S. Department of Transportation tracked weather-related car accidents over a 10-year period between 2007 and 2016 and found that:
18% occurred during snow or sleet (219,942 crashes)
13% occurred on icy pavement (156,164 crashes)
16% happened on snowy or slushy pavement (186,076 crashes)
So, why are icy roads so dangerous?
Why Driving on Icy Roads is Dangerous
Ice tends to form when temperatures drop to 32 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re not used to driving on ice, you could find yourself in trouble. Here’s what happens when ice, asphalt, and vehicles all come into contact.
Less Traction Between Tires and the Road
Wet, icy, and slushy roads drastically reduce traction between your car’s tires and the road surface. This immediately puts you in danger. If you hit ice, your car could suddenly go into a skid, which is a scary situation.
As you start to lose control of the vehicle, your first reaction may be to slam the brakes. But this is the worst thing you can do, as it will cause your car to either fishtail or go into a spin.
To avoid this, regularly check the tread on your tires and the tire pressure. Low tire pressure affects steering and will make it harder to handle driving on an icy pavement.
Braking Takes Longer
As a result of reduced tire traction on icy roads, it takes longer for a vehicle to come to a stop. When driving in ice, rain, or snow, braking distance can easily double. And the faster you drive, the longer it takes to come to a stop.
Not being able to brake in time means you could slam into the car in front of you or hit a pedestrian at a crosswalk.
To compensate for longer braking times, drive slower, increase your following distance, and start braking earlier than you normally would.
Black Ice Can Be Deadly
If you’ve ever stepped onto a patch of black ice and had your feet give way under you, you know there was no way to avoid falling. That’s because black ice is so hard and glassy that your shoes are not able to grip it.
The same principle applies when your car hits a patch of black ice. The tires can’t adequately grip the road, and you can go into a dangerous skid. If cars in front or behind you also skid, it can lead to a nasty traffic pileup.
The reason black ice is so perilous is because it’s hard to see. Technically, it's a clear film of ice through which you can see the black surface of the road. The road simply looks wet so most drivers head straight into it without slowing down.
However, the trained eye can spot black ice, depending on the road and light conditions. It’s much harder to see at night.
Always pay attention to the road surface. If the road is dry and you spot what seems like a wet patch just ahead, slow down. Patches of black ice are usually only for a short distance. If you drive over it very slowly, you should soon be back on dry road without any incident.
Steep Hills Become More Treacherous
Ice on hilly roads can be hair-raising. Because your car’s tires have less traction, they can’t combat gravity as effectively. So your car could speed up, and hitting the brake too sharply will only make the situation more dangerous.
Inadequate tires don’t help. It’s best to swap your standard tires for winter tires that perform better in snow and ice. For extra traction, you can fit snow chains. Being prepared for snow and ice can help drive more safely during winter.
Learn How to Drive Safely on Icy Roads
Some drivers try to avoid driving on icy roads. Of course, this is not always possible. Instead of avoiding it, why not try to improve your driving skills? One way is to practice driving on icy roads in a safe area like an empty parking lot or back roads with fewer cars.
Another way is to take a defensive driving course. With IDriveSafely.com, you'll learn how to drive safely in inclement weather and handle a vehicle that’s in a spin or hydroplaning.
You can sign up for IDriveSafely’s defensive driving online course here.