Even during milder winters you can find yourself driving on slippery, ice roads. Ice on the road surfaces has a tricky way of increasing your braking distance. If you’re not used to driving in winter, or if you haven’t swapped over to winter tyres, you’ll find yourself sliding through intersections that you used to stop at with ease.

Understanding why ice impacts your braking distance so severely requires an exercise in physics. Once you have the basics under your belt, you’ll better understand why the right tyres and driving styles keep you safer in the winter months.

breaking distance winter tyres

Friction, ice, and your tyres

In the spring and summer, your car’s seasonal tyres will take to the road with ease. The push and pull between your tyres and the road – the generation of momentum – drives your car forward in the best of conditions. When you pump on the brakes, you forcibly apply additional friction to your tyres, forcing them to come to a stop. 

Ice makes gaining momentum while on the road a little more difficult. If you’ve come to a stop on an icy patch, you may end up revving your engine without going anywhere until you can gain some traction. 

Likewise, your car will only respond as it should to a brake’s friction if its tread is able to grip the road beneath it. Without direct access to the road, your tyres will continue to slide even after you’re tapped the brakes.

Tips for braking in winter

What can you do, then, to retain a safe braking distance during the winter? While you can’t change the laws of physics, there are some tricks you can employ to make your time on the road a little easier.

Slow down 

Ice will always make it more difficult to stay in control of your car while you’re on the road. That said, it’s easier to maintain control if you’re driving a little slower than you would during the summer. If you spot a patch of ice on the road, or if it’s actively storming around you, drop your speed by 10 miles an hour or more. Your stopping distance is still going to be longer than it would be in good weather, but you’ll have less momentum driving you forward.

driving on snow

Manage your momentum

Your instinct, if your car starts to slide, may be to immediately slam on the brakes. Unfortunately, this isn’t going to help your car come to a stop. When your tyres can’t generate roadway friction, they’ll glide until the ice gives way.

Instead of panicking, let your car coast over the ice. You won’t be able to retain much control with your steering wheel, so let the slide take you until you come in contact with the road again. To avoid sliding all together, approach ice patches slowly. 

The more slowly you’re driving, the less momentum you’ll have pushing your car forward. Ice that isn’t working with high momentum won’t push your car as far off track as it would otherwise.

Swap out your tyres

Changing your summer tyres out for winter tyres can save you a lot of grief in the colder months. Summer tyres, while convenient for more temperate weather, aren’t made to last at colder temperatures. These tyres will have a harder time gripping the road when ice, sleet, and slush get in the way. 

That lack of traction can reduce your braking distance significantly. Winter tyres, comparatively, are made with colder temperatures in mind. You’ll be able to retain your normal braking distance even with slush and sleet cluttering up the road. 

Learning how to improve your safety in winter takes time and practice. Take your time and make sure you have the best tyres on hand to help you stay in control while on the road.

winter tyre tread

Keep an eye on your tread

Even your winter tyres may fall victim to overuse. Keep an eye on the tread as the winter carries on. Your tyre tread needs to have a depth of at least 1.6 mm. Any tread shallower than that will net you a ticket from law enforcement representatives.

One easy way to test the depth of your tread is to take a pound coin to your tyre. If you can see the outer band of the coin when you press it into the tread, you need to swap over your tyres ASAP.

Test your automatic brakes

Before the worst of winter sets in, be sure to take your car to a garage for a brake inspection. Your car may come equipped with automatic braking or an emergency brake system. If it does, a professional will let you know how the systems look and whether or not they’ll hold up through the worst of the winter.

Driving in the ice and snow is an exercise in physics. Be patient with yourself and your car during the colder months of the year and be sure to swap out your tyres. With the help of a little extra traction, you’ll keep yourself and the drivers around you safer.