Winter driving is definitely challenging, but you can’t stay home all season waiting for the ice to melt. Instead, these defensive driving techniques can help counter any potential black ice patches you may face.
- Slow down. This age-old defensive driving technique also applies to black ice. The slower you travel, the lower your chances of skidding—and the less violent any skid will be.
- Don’t use cruise control. Your vehicle will try to maintain speed with no regard for the dangerous conditions beneath it.
- Steer with clean movements. Avoid the urge to make jerky, reactive movements that could cause your vehicle to skid.
But what if you do all of these things and still end up in a black ice skid? There are ways to recover, and they depend on the kind of car you drive.
Front-wheel drive means that only the front two wheels are powered by the engine. This makes these vehicles better in harsh weather conditions than rear-wheel drive vehicles. That said, they are still vulnerable to skids.
If you find yourself in a skid in a front-wheel drive car, turn the steering wheel into the skid. If the skid reverses, change the direction of your steering wheel to follow the skid. Allow the wheels to maintain their speed—don’t apply the brakes or the accelerator.
If your vehicle has a manual transmission, push the clutch. Your car will begin to gain traction as the wheels’ speed catches up to the car. Remember, you may need to make several wheel corrections before the car gains traction.
Rear-wheel drive cars require the front wheels to steer while the rear wheels push the vehicle. This benefits braking and acceleration, but they are more prone to skids than front-wheel drive cars. However, recovering from a skid in a rear-wheel drive car is often easier than it is with a front-wheel drive car.
If you find yourself in a skid in a rear-wheel drive car, steer in the direction you want to go. This may mean a counter-steer if the back of your vehicle swerves away from this direction. Be gentle with the wheel as an overcorrection could send your vehicle’s back end in the opposite direction. Once you straighten out your vehicle, apply gentle pressure to the accelerator until your car’s engine speed matches the road speed.
All-wheel or four-wheel drive cars provide the best balance and are the most resistant to skids. Many people, however, mistakenly believe that they are impervious to skids. A patch of black ice can still cause an all-wheel drive vehicle to skid.
If you have an all-wheel drive vehicle without antilock brakes, resist slamming the brakes when you start to skid. This is especially important with all-wheel drive vehicles because you are cutting power to all four wheels, making the vehicle operate like a front or rear-wheel drive vehicle. Instead, give the brakes a repeated light tap (known as pumping the brakes) while steering the wheel with simple, precise movements until you navigate yourself out of the skid.
Anti-lock brakes (ABS) offer better control and decrease the distance needed to stop your car. They are designed to prevent skidding.
It’s important to brake normally if your car has anti-lock brakes. Don’t pump your brakes; the car automatically does that for you.