WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Even a small coating of ice can cause the most ordinary roads to become impassable. Ahead of a weekend where much of the Piedmont Triad is expected so see some sort of wintry precipitation, FOX8 wanted to make sure you know what to expect if you do have to drive.
“It’s a completely otherworldly feeling,” said Cpl. Thomas Day, a driving instructor with the Winston-Salem Police Department, of losing control on ice.
Day met FOX8 at the ice rink at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds Annex to demonstrate how quickly even the most experienced drivers can lose control on ice.
“You can almost have a panic factor because the car’s not doing what you want it to do,” Day said, of drivers who are unfamiliar with traveling in icy conditions.
At speeds no higher than 7 mph, Day was already losing traction on the ice.
“You’ll hear that [anti-lock braking system] kick in, it sounds like a grinding noise,” he described.
Day went on to demonstrate a tactic described as “turning into the slide.” When you feel the back end of your vehicle break loose, you want to turn your wheel into the direction your back end is going.
“If conditions are bad enough, you will still continue to spin some,” Day described.
However, the maneuver stopped the vehicle from spinning a full 360 degrees on the ice rink.
“You would be upside-down, you’d be in someone’s house, you’d be in a pretty energetic crash and it’d probably be very painful,” Day said, of if someone were to spin out at a higher rate of speed.
Day also demonstrated what happens if you don’t adjust your steering to counteract the slide. In those scenarios, the cruiser rotated at least 180 degrees further than when Day turned into the slide.
“When we totally lost control, if we didn’t turn into it, you would just keep going around and around and until I hit the brakes we would have probably kept going maybe another half rotation or a full rotation because there’s nothing trying to get the back end to come back to where it should be,” he explained.
At about 5 mph, when Day slammed on his brakes without turning the wheel, it still took about five seconds to come to a complete stop. This demonstrated the need to allow at least double the normal following distance in icy conditions compared to on a dry roadway.
“It’s a safe environment, controlled environment, but we weren’t really in control of the vehicle,” he said. “We were just really waiting for the vehicle to stop.”
The low speeds in which Day was still experiencing a loss of control is a good example of adjusting your travel speeds during dangerous conditions.
“If it’s icy, the speed limit that’s posted on the side of the road is not the speed limit,” Day explained.
Overall, if you do get into a slide, the immediate goal is to get your vehicle to stop without a collision or leaving the roadway, regardless of the position in the roadway compared to how you were previously driving. Once you’re stopped, then you can reassess or call law enforcement if necessary.
Day says successfully traversing icy roads comes down to four key steps; travel slowly, pay attention, allow plenty of following distance and use reasonable senses. But of course, the safest thing you can do is stay at home.