Insider’s Guide: How to Drive on Ice

Learn how to manage one of the real winter driving dangers

Winter driving isn’t all about driving on snow. Ice can be a real threat, too — especially black ice, which is invisible. On average, 580 people are killed and 45,133 are injured in 154,580 crashes on icy roads in the U.S. each year. Overall, icy roads account for 12% of weather related crashes.

The best advice when road conditions are hazardous is to stay at home. That’s not always possible, so we’ve pulled together some tips to help take the white knuckles out of driving on ice.

Ice formation

A light snow dusting or drizzle of freezing rain can quickly turn bridges, overpasses and shaded areas into hidden dangers. So-called black ice is often clear and invisible. As its name suggests, it looks just like the rest of the road.

Timing and knowledge

  • It takes a lot longer to stop when you have poor road traction. Slow down and drop back a little to make sure you have a good view of what’s ahead.
  • Expect ice on bridges, overpasses and shady areas that ice over before other areas and stay frozen longer.
  • Take extra care around dawn and late evening, when temperatures are at their lowest and black ice is most likely to form.

Equipment

  • Keep your windshield and windows clear of snow and ice. You want as good of a view as possible.
  • Use your signals well ahead of time to give cars around you plenty of advance warning before you stop or turn.
  • Vehicle safety features — four-wheel drive, traction control, antilock brakes, or stability control — may help, but they are often no match for a patch of ice. In fact, all cars struggle to provide enough traction to maintain control on ice in certain situations.

Icy patches

If your car starts sliding, stay calm and:

  • Keep your foot off the pedals. You do not want to use the brake or gas if you do not have control of your vehicle.
  • Steer in the direction you want to go. You may initially have to counter-steer (i.e., turn your wheel in the opposite direction of the way you really want to go) to regain control of the vehicle.
  • Retake control of the pedals. Once you have regained control of your car, put your feet back on the appropriate pedal.
  • Find areas that offer traction. Try to find parts of the roadway that offer better traction, such as grooved sections or even areas with broken ice.

For more on how to manage a sliding car, check out our infographic How to Drive in Snow.

In an accident

If you do have an accident, don’t assume the dangers end when the car stops. Every year, people who survive the initial accident are killed because they get out of their car, stand on the road, and are struck by vehicles losing control at the same spot. Icy road accidents often happen in multiples, so be careful.

  • If possible, move your car away from the accident site and to a safer area.
  • If you can’t move your car, stay inside it if traffic is approaching. Your car can offer protection if another car loses control. Again, do not get out of your car and stand on the road.

If you see an accident — but are not involved — call 911. Emergency services providers can safely block the road and divert traffic while taking care of the accident scene.

Preparation

While there is no sure way to prepare for what will happen when you hit an icy patch of roadway, knowing how your vehicle operates can give you some insight.

  • Practice driving on slippery surfaces, such as an empty parking lot in daylight, to learn how your vehicle handles icy and snowy conditions.
  • Know how to handle your car’s brakes. If you have antilock brakes (ABS), for example, you can apply firm, continuous pressure in icy conditions. Otherwise, you should just gently pump the vehicle’s brakes.

And, of course, if you are involved in an accident while driving on ice, call your insurance company as soon as you are safe to do so.