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Tips to Drive Safely on Icy Roads

While many Canadians are used to long, cold winters, most will cringe to the thought of driving in extreme wintery conditions. Driving in snow or on ice is something most Canadian drivers will face at some point in their driving careers, and knowing how to react quickly and correctly could mean the difference between a few scary seconds and a potential crash. Below are tips for safe driving during the winter season:

Top tips for winter driving:

How to spot black ice

Black ice is just like regular ice in that it forms on the surface of pavement after freezing rain or the re-freezing of snow or rain. It often occurs when the air temperature is warmer than the road temperature. Because of this difference, the liquid moisture in the air freezes as soon as it touches the road. Quick drops in temperature also cause black ice as water on the road has not had the chance to evaporate before the freeze. The reason it’s often referred to as black ice is that it forms without bubbles and is therefore completely transparent, making it difficult to see as it blends in with the surface.

How to drive on black ice

It’s a good idea to slow down in colder temperatures just in case you hit an icy patch. Ice will impact your stopping distance and vehicle handling, so practicing driving in slippery conditions like an empty, snow or ice-covered parking lot can help prepare you, and so will making sure you have approved winter tires that are in good condition. Snow tires are made of a compound that will stay soft and pliant in cold temperatures rather than turning hard in the cold like summer or all-season tires. Staying soft allows a car to grip the road better and gives you shorter stopping distance and better handling on ice and snow.

How to prevent skidding

If you do hit a patch of black ice when driving, it’s important to stay calm and think back to what you’ve learned. Skid control tips include reacting as little as possible and keeping the vehicle headed straight as you pass over the slippery spot. Steer straight, take your foot off the gas, and do not hit the brakes. If you are driving a manual car, shift into a lower gear – this can give you more control Place your hands at nine and three o’clock instead of the usually recommended ten and two. This can give you better control of the wheel and help you keep it straight.

What to do if you start to slide

If you start to feel the back end of your car sliding out, remember to look where you want to go and not where you’re afraid of going. Gently give your steering wheel a slight turn in the same direction that your back end is headed. Struggling against that movement can send you spinning out of control. If you skid or spin, once again remain calm. A little braking might be necessary if you’re skidding a lot. If your car has an anti-lock braking system (ABS), put your foot on the brake and apply even pressure – the ABS will pump the brakes for you. You’ll feel a pulsing under the brake pedal, which is the ABS engaging and disengaging your car’s brakes. Don’t take your foot off the brake once you feel this start. If you don’t have ABS, use the heel-and-toe method – this involves keeping your heel on the floor and using your toes to gently pump the brakes as you skid, keeping your steering wheel pointed in the direction that you want your car to go. If you feel your brakes lock, reduce the pressure on the brakes and repeat until your car stops moving.

Be prepared for winter driving and check out even more road safety tips from the Ministry of Transportation.