Snow during the winter season can mean trouble when you’re out on the road–but what might be even worse is an ice storm.
The best advice for taking your car through an ice storm is to stay at home. When temperatures are fluctuating around the freezing point, an ice storm can create slick, dangerous conditions for drivers.
Whether it’s an emergency, on vacation, or you just have to get somewhere quickly–staying inside and bundling up during a storm isn’t always possible.
It’s important that you know how to handle your vehicle on the icy road. If you find yourself out on the road during bad weather, these essential tips could mean the difference between a safe drive or a dangerous accident.
Here are some ways you can stay in control of your car while navigating the icy roadways.
10 Essential Tips to Stay Safe Driving Through an Ice Storm
Even the slightest bit of ice on the roads can make for difficult driving conditions. Learning how to drive in snow and ice can help you navigate treacherous conditions and stay safe.
It’s always best to avoid the roads during this kind of weather, but it never hurts to be prepared. Check out these 10 essential tips to keep you safe while driving through an ice storm.
1. Be Prepared
Before you head out, double check that everything in your car is in order.
Make sure headlights and blinkers are working properly.
Clear off any ice or snow from the windshield or the top of your car before you start driving. Anything left on your car could slide off and obstruct your windows or mirrors. Ice could even fly off the sides and hurt pedestrians or others around you.
In the case of emergency, be sure that you have your phone with you. Fill up on gas every time you get below half–you never know if you’ll need it to keep warm in an emergency. It also doesn’t hurt to carry some additional emergency supplies like blankets, food, water, and matches.
2. Watch the Weather
If you plan to travel when you know there could be ice storms or snow on the road, keep an eye on road and weather conditions.
Check online or on local news stations before you go. You can also sign up for weather alerts to receive texts or emails about the weather in your area.
Just remember–never check your phone behind the wheel unless you’ve come to a full stop. It’s important to avoid all distractions on the road, especially during an ice storm.
3. Keep an Eye on the Road
Pay very close attention to the surface of the road while you’re driving.
Watch out for any accumulated snow or ice, especially on bridges or elevated roadways.
Black ice is notoriously difficult to detect while driving, and it’s slippery enough to send your car flying off the road. Watch out for any asphalt that has a glossy, wet, or shiny looking surface.
If you do hit black ice, don’t hit the brakes or jerk the steering wheel. Any sudden movements could send you skidding off the road. Try to gently guide your car through the patch until you can gain traction again.
4. Slow Down
This might sound self-explanatory, but keeping your speed down on icy roads is absolutely crucial.
Don’t slow down so much that you’re obstructing other drives, but keep a careful, slow pace when driving in icy conditions–even if you’re not directly on a piece of ice at the time. The trick is to maintain enough speed that you won’t get stranded on a long stretch of ice while still going slow enough that you won’t slide right off the road.
Even when the ice storm is over and conditions have calmed down, it’s best to keep your speed down until you’re sure that the roads are free of ice.
5. Handle Your Car Carefully
If your car runs over a patch of ice, your car might behave unpredictably.
It won’t always respond to your inputs–like pressing on the gas or brake–and it might start heading in a direction you don’t want it to go. Staying calm and knowing how to direct your vehicle on the ice will help you navigate the icy roads safely.
If you notice your car sliding out of control, follow these steps:
- Don’t panic
- Don’t touch the brakes
- Take your foot off the gas and decelerate
- Gently turn the steering wheel in the direction you want to go
- Wait for the car to gain traction
6. Avoid the Hills
Hills tend to ice over fast, and it’s easy to slide all the way back down to the bottom and start a serious accident.
If at all possible, stay away from any hills in your area until a road crew has cleared them of snow and ice.
If you need to get up a hill, get as much momentum as you can and let it carry you to the top. Try not to hit the gas while you’re on the hill—it causes your wheels to spin which could slow you down on the ice. Once you’re at the top, reduce speed until you reach the bottom again.
Don’t ever come to a stop or slow down on a hill–you’ll likely end up sliding back down and hitting any cars that are behind you.
7. Use Caution
When driving during an ice storm, it’s vital that you don’t make any sudden movements.
Be cautious with every move that you make on the road. Start braking early for turns, and put your turn signal on early to give driver’s plenty of warning for a lane change or turn. Unless you’re about to hit another vehicle, don’t make a sudden movement or jerk the steering wheel.
If you miss an exit or make a wrong turn, stay calm and take your time. Don’t slam on the brakes, take a turn too fast, or try to cut across multiple lanes. It’s much better to find a safe place to turn around and head back carefully.
8. Pay Attention to Other Drivers
If driving in icy conditions is tricky for you, it’ll be the same for the drivers you’re sharing the road with.
Keep a close eye on other cars. If you see vehicles skidding or changing direction suddenly, be prepared to slow down, stop, or go around them.
In addition to keeping your own movements slow and controlled, give the drivers in front of you and behind you plenty of space in case they slip. Try to leave at least 8 seconds or more of driving time in between your car and the car in front of you.
9. Ask For Help
Don’t be ashamed to stop and ask for help.
If you’re driving in whiteout conditions or you just don’t feel safe or confident driving on the ice, try to pull over to a safe place on the side of the road. If possible, try to stay away from busy roads or highways in case of an accident with another vehicle.
Try calling roadside assistance through your insurance. You can also call local authorities or the fire department to help get you off the road.
Learn more here about emergency rescue operations for ice storms and other weather conditions.
10. In an Emergency
If you do get stuck off the road or in a snowdrift, it’s important to stay calm.
Try to call a family member or emergency service if you can. Don’t walk away from your car–especially in severe weather.
Attach something colorful or reflective to the window. Conserve gas by turning the engine on periodically to warm the car. You can use the food, water, and blankets while you wait for help.
Just remember–keep the tailpipe clear of snow when you turn the engine on to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. You can also crack a window if needed to keep the fresh air flowing in.
The Bottom Line
Driving in an ice storm can be challenging and scary, even for experienced drivers.
Taking it slow, exercising caution, and making preparations before you head out can help you drive more safely. Above all, if you think it will be unsafe to drive, try your best to stay off the road.
Looking for more tips and tricks for your next adventure? Check out our travel hack articles.