How to Safely Drive on Ice

Driving in the Snow
 Westend61 / Getty Images

According to rally racing pro and host of the TV series Top Gear Tanner Foust, maintaining control on snow and ice is simple: Just keep the car’s controls separate. “A car really does three things,” he says. “It brakes, it accelerates, and it turns. And whether you’re driving on a racetrack or in snow and ice, it’s essential that you only ever do one of those things at a time.”

1. Slow down

When you’re coming up on an icy corner, keep the steering wheel perfectly straight. That way, you maintain traction and your ability to slow down without having to worry about trying to steer around the corner at the same time.

2. Turn

Once you have the car’s speed under control, enter the curve. Release the brake and turn the steering wheel, without any additional acceleration. Allow your tires’ existing traction to steer the vehicle.

3. Speed up

Wait until you’re starting to straighten the wheel at the end of the turn before beginning to accelerate out of it.

More winter driving tips:

These are some of the basics—and, frankly, they are the same things you’d learn in a racing school, because, whether you’re on ice at 15mph or a race track at 90mph, you have the potential to lose grip on the tires and skid. The same rules apply in both situations.

– It sounds like common sense, but know what equipment your car has. There are a few features on modern cars that actually require a driver to change his technique for certain situations. For instance: Without anti-lock brakes, you take your foot off the brakes completely when sliding to keep the tires from stopping and locking up so you can stay on the road. With ABS, the technique is different—it’s to put your foot on the brake and steer as necessary. The ABS system will prioritize steering over breaking.

– Focus on looking where you want to end up. If there are cars spinning on ice in front of you, rather than staring at those cars spinning around, stare in the gap where you want the car to actually end up. And this is an amazingly difficult thing to do. Mountain bikers and motorcycle riders have to learn this lesson—if you’re riding and you see a snail in the middle of the trail and you’re trying not to run over him, if you stare at the little guy he’s doomed. That’s just how the human body works—and it applies to any sport.

– If your car does start to slide, it’s usually either the back tires or the front tires that start to skid first. If you feel the back of the car slide to the outside of the corner and the car rotates, that’s called oversteering. In that scenario, look where you want to go. You will naturally steer in the direction you want to go. Stay off the breaks, and possibly even apply a little throttle to put weight back on the rear tires. If the front tire starts sliding, then the front tires will go to the outside of the corner and the car will feel like its going to hit the nose on the guard rail, or it’s not turning enough. That’s called understeering. This is the most difficult scenario in driving, I believe, because now the steering wheel doesn’t do anything. You actually have to stay off the pedals and move the steering wheel back straight and get the tires to regain grip before you can continue around the corner. You have to release the pedals, bring the wheel/tires back toward straight, and hope that it’ll regain traction before you hit the guard rail.