How Driving on Ice Works

Reducing Driving Speed on Ice

If you see a sign like this, you may want to slow down, preferably not by slamming on your brakes.
If you see a sign like this, you may want to slow down, preferably not by slamming on your brakes.

Speed can be dangerous regardless of the driving conditions. In fact, speeding was a factor in more than 13,000 fatal crashes in 2006, contributing to an estimated $40 billion in crash-related expenses for the U.S. government [source: ACEP]. As you might imagine, then, speed and ice are a bad combination. On slick roads, even driving the speed limit can put you at risk of getting in an accident or getting a ticket, which explains why traffic typically slows to anywhere from 5 to 40 percent of its average speed in heavy snowstorms [source: U.S. DOT].

Speed makes you more likely to get in a wreck for a couple of reasons. At higher speeds, you won't have as much time to react if someone brakes ahead of you, and since it takes twice as long to stop on icy roads, you can easily find yourself in a fender bender. You also have less control over your car at higher speeds, particularly in bad weather.

Ironically, slowing down on icy roads can be dangerous as well. That's because braking on ice can easily put your car into a spin if not done properly. If your car has an anti-lock braking system (ABS), you should maintain a steady pressure on the brake pedal; your car's ABS will handle the braking for you and adapt to the road conditions. When your car engages its ABS, you'll feel a pulsing in the brake pedal. The pulsing results from the ABS applying and disengaging the car's brakes, so make sure not to take your foot off the brake once you feel the system engage.

If your car doesn't have ABS, you'll likely need to pump your brakes to avoid sending your car into a skid. If you do start to skid, remain calm and steer gently into the skid until your tires regain traction, and make sure not to press the brake until you've re-established control.

Read on to learn about one of the hidden threats of driving in freezing temperatures.