Icy roads: What to look out for and how to drive on them

Icy roads

If the verge is frosty it’s quite likely the road will be icy too

Icy roads probably aren’t something we think about much. Yet for many of us driving on ice is a regular occurrence during the coldest months of the year. If you have to scrape the ice off your car in the morning, or even perhaps when you leave work in the late afternoon, there may be ice on the road. We explain how to figure out whether the road is likely to be icy and how to drive if it is.

How to spot icy roads

Look around you. Are the verges frosted? If there are puddles, are these frozen? If so, the road surface is likely to be icy too. This is particularly true in the countryside where there isn’t much traffic to melt any ice. The government’s Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) advises: “If it’s very cold, treat all wet-looking surfaces as though they’re frozen because they probably are. If the road looks wet but there’s no sound from the tyres, expect ice.” Richard Gladman from the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) warns: “Even when frost thaws, ice will stay around areas that are often shaded or near bridges that are exposed to wind chill. Consider how you drive through these micro-climates and be prepared to slow down if you need to. “

Don’t believe your car

The majority of modern cars have thermometers on them that tell us the outside temperature. These are accurate – up to a point. For a start, their reading isn’t instant. If your car has been parked under cover or in a garage, when you hit the road, the reading is likely to be a couple of degrees higher than it actually is. Even if the car has been parked outside, the thermometer’s reading depends on where its sensor is located in the car. Few are situated at road level so they don’t give an accurate reading of road temperature.

Why your tyres won’t work as well

To understand how to drive in icy weather, it’s worth understanding how you’re connected to the road. The tyres fitted as standard to the vast majority of cars are designed to operate in our normal weather conditions. For Brits, the Met Office says the average temperature across the year ‑ using the Midlands as an example ‑ is 13.8 degrees C. At below 7 degrees C, the rubber mix or compound in regular tyres starts to harden. As this happens, the tyres’ grip reduces. This limits their ability to hold the road in slippery conditions and causes stopping distances to increase.

How to drive on icy roads

Taking into account the reduced grip offered by tyres, it makes sense to cut your speed on icy roads. After all, the faster you go, the longer it will take you to stop. The DVSA says: “Treat every control – brakes, accelerator, steering, clutch and gears – very delicately.” Richard Gladman from the IAM adds: “If your car loses grip you should take your foot off the accelerator and point the front wheels in the direction you want them to go. All steering and braking inputs must be as gentle as possible in icy conditions. Front-wheel drive vehicles are generally better in icy conditions. But if your car is a rear-wheel drive, always take it extra slow and steady when changing direction.”

Other things to think about

Black ice is where water freezes on the road’s surface but you can’t see it. Read our blog about how to deal with black ice. It’s also important that you prepare yourself and your car for driving in cold weather. Your garage can advise on the latter. Before freezing weather really bites, check that there’s enough additive in your washer bottle and the cooling system. And when you leave the house, make sure you’ve got a winter coat. You might think there’s little point as your office is warm and the car has a heater. But if you’re unexpectedly stranded, having warm clothing could make a huge difference to how comfortable you are. Read our winter tips here.

4 comments on “Icy roads: What to look out for and how to drive on them

  1. Katherine and Peter Abbott November 29, 2016 9:06 pm

    We used your breakdown service a few weeks ago and want to express our great appreciation of the service your organisation provided. We phoned at 2.15 pm aprox and your agent from Highfield Garage arrived within 20 minutes or so, diagnosed the problem, ordered the starter motor, took us and our motor home to their garage nr. Oakhampton in Devon, provided coffee and comfort, fitted the starter motor when it arrived and we were back on the road at 4.45pm. The staff were so kind, efficient and curteous and we really appreciated their kindness .Thank you all so much. Kate and Peter Abbott

  2. Leslie wainwright December 6, 2016 12:21 pm

    Very interesting indeed. All the points are covered with immense detail. So much so if you read and understand all that is written you could be a much better driver. Great monthly news paper!

  3. Patrick Crotty January 17, 2017 9:43 am

    Very informative, makes you think of possibilities of different road conditions as you sit in your warm, comfortable vehicle.

  4. simon January 19, 2017 1:20 pm

    Great explanation on the hardness of rubber tyres at different temperatures. So are “winter tyres” made of softer rubber for better grip at lower / freezing temperatures?

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