Driving on icy or wet roads isn’t something that most Australians do often. So to help you drive safely and confidently, here are a number of expert tips to help adjust your driving technique for icy or wet winter roads.
Before you go
On longer trips, it’s important to let someone know where you're going and what time you're expected to arrive, says Driver Safety Australia’s Chief Driving Instructor, Ian Phipps.
“We have seen situations overseas where people have been marooned in icy conditions and it's taken someone to raise the alert for them to be recovered or found,” says Ian.
Before you set off, have your radio tuned for regular weather reports and be prepared in case conditions change quickly and you find yourself stuck.
QBE National Product Manager for Private Motor Insurance, Rachel Spooner, urges drivers to check their brakes regularly during icy winter weather.
“Make sure your brakes are in good working order with plenty of pad material still there. Icy roads can be very slippery and you don’t want to risk skidding off the road in tricky conditions,” explains Rachel.
Be a safe driver
Being complacent is the biggest mistake that people make when driving on wet or icy roads, Ian observes.
“We hear media reports where weather conditions have been blamed for a spate of vehicle incidents, but I think what happens is the bad weather highlights bad driving habits, things like being jerky on the controls, not looking far enough ahead, being harsh with acceleration or braking,” he says.
“When the grip is good and the road's dry those bad habits are covered, but the moment rain or icy conditions come, tyre grip is compromised and you can find yourself in trouble.”
Above all else, you need to drive to the conditions on the day. When driving on wet or icy roads, that means being aware of how impaired visibility and grip is going to impact your reaction speed and braking.
QBE’s Rachel Spooner urges drivers to be conscious of speed.
“Remember to slow down your driving to adjust speed for slick conditions. Often the road speed limits are set for ideal conditions such as dry weather,” she says.
For Driver Safety Australia’s Ian Phipps, speed can be key. It's very important that drivers don't do anything to upset the vehicle's balance or suddenly enhance the chance of grip disappearing.
“So it's a matter of slowing down, being very gentle with the controls, consistently looking as far ahead as you possibly can, and being very smooth with throttle and brake application, he says
Unfortunately, once you've lost control in these conditions it can be too late.
“The moment the tyres have broken traction, momentum is going to dictate how far you continue to travel. Brakes don't stop the car. It's the brakes working with the grip of the tyres that actually stops the vehicle,” he explains “So once you've lost grip it could take quite a while for you to recover it. And you may not get grip back until you've left the road.”
Beware of ice and black ice
Sections of road where you should be extra alert for signs of ice are bridges and overpasses which can freeze quickly. Black ice can also lurk in shaded, tree-covered and less-travelled stretches.
You'll want to be particularly vigilant at dawn and in the late evening when temperatures are often lowest and ice can form.
“Look out for any area that appears to have a slightly different shading of road surface or a slightly different texture to it,” advises Ian.
“Sometimes that's the only sign you get that grip level is compromised, literally just metres away from you.”
It's also a good idea to keep an eye on the website of your local road authority for any black ice warnings and check your vehicle's external temperature gauge, if it has one.
In case of emergency
If you find yourself driving on black ice, you will have little or no control over your vehicle, warns VicRoads
“Until you clear the patch of ice, use the accelerator, brakes and steering as little as possible,” the state government authority advises.
“Do not accelerate, apply the brakes hard or turn the steering wheel quickly.
“If you try to struggle against the ice by braking hard or steering in the opposite direction, you increase the risk of spinning out.”
In wet conditions, if you feel the car starting to skid, ease off the power and try not to over correct, says Ian Phipps.
“Easing off the power early will help the car regain its composure. But again, any skid is a high risk situation, so best to avoid it in the first place,” he says.
Be prepared to pull over
You may reach a point where it's just not safe to continue driving, so if you're uncomfortable or unsure, pull over.
“Just as we've seen with driving on wet roads 'if it's flooded, forget it'. I say 'when in doubt, don't',” says Ian.
“There will be another chance to travel onwards in a few hours.”
QBE’s comprehensive car insurance covers your car anywhere in Australia under any weather conditions.
Here’s a checklist to help you prepare for driving in icy conditions:
- Let someone know where you're going and when to alert authorities if you don't arrive
- Check weather reports and your local road authority for warnings
- Make sure you have the appropriate travel insurance for your winter trip
- Fuel up and take supplies in case of emergency
- Don't be jerky on the controls, accelerate or brake harshly
- Slow down, increase your following and braking distances
- Keep an eye out for ice and black ice and be prepared to respond appropriately
- Pull over if it's unsafe to continue driving