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Driving on Ice, Losing Control? Tips to recover

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By Audree-Jade Alain
Beat the Traffic
Friday, January 31, 2014, 11:44 AM

Driving in winter can be quite stressful; ice, snow, slippery and slushy roads make for a very unpredictable drive. Here are a few tips for driving in tough winter conditions. 

To start, winter tires are quite helpful when driving on the roads during winter season. 

Driving according to road conditions is the best thing to do in all circumstances, and practice is the key to remaining calm and knowing what to do when ice decides to trick you. To practice, find yourself an empty parking lot and test your car’s ability in snow covered roads:

  1. What is your stopping distance? In snow/ice it can increase up to 10 times
  2. How are your tires gripping to the snow? 
  3. How much pressure do you need to apply on your breaks if you need to stop without your car starting to slip?
  4. How fast can you accelerate without your wheels turning? 
  5. How fast can you turn without slipping or skidding?
  6. How sharply can you turn your wheels without loosing control?

A lot of practice is quite important before you venture out on snow-covered roads. You don’t need to do this every time you use your car, but you should do this at the beginning of every season, as this will remind you of what your car is capable of.  If you have time or feel the need to test your car on the roads, you can check your stopping distance on small unoccupied streets. 

Now, what should you do if your car starts skidding? 

There are three types of skidding, all of which can be quite dangerous. Knowing the right way to recover from each type of skidding could save your life. Regaining control of your car is quite similar in all situations: 

Rear – wheel skids:

Image: Transport Canada

Image: Transport Canada

Front-wheel skidding: 

Image: Transport Canada

Image: Transport Canada

Four - wheel skids:

Image: Transport Canada

Image: Transport Canada

How to recover: 

Stay calm and most importantly, don’t try to recover too fast by turning your steering wheel sharply or by slamming on your brakes. 

First you need to remove your foot from the gas or brake pedal, then put your car into neutral if you have an automatic car or press on the clutch if you drive a standard car; then steer slowly and gently towards the direction you want the car to go.  

When you feel like you are losing control of your wheels, pick a visual target that is a bit far away, but in the direction you wish to go towards; your goal is to move towards this target. Once your car is straight, the wheels will grip the road and you will have regained control. Put your car back into gear and accelerate slowly. 

If you see a patch of clear pavement, you can use this as a way to get more traction for your wheels and regain control of the car faster.

If you have to brake and your vehicle has ABS (anti-lock braking system), press on your brakes firmly and your ABS will pump the brakes as you are slipping. If you don’t have ABS, you should never press on the break firmly. The best approach is to tap and release your brakes repeatedly as if you are listening to a medium beat on the radio. This will gently restore traction and help your tires grip the road again.

The tips above are a great way to keep control of your car when you find yourself skidding, but we cannot stress enough the importance of practicing and getting to know how your car feels and responds when it loses traction. Consider looking for a winter driving school in your area.  They will teach you these techniques and give you an opportunity to apply them in a safe, controlled environment. 

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