Driving Tips for Dangerous Road Conditions

Skidding. Spinning. Sliding. Terrifying for you, but for Alex Deborgorski, the nerves-of-steel veteran on Ice Road Truckers it’s a typical day at work. The  pro driver gives tips on staying in control while navigating winter roads.

Photo by Tom Schierlitz

When are roads most dangerous?
When there’s been rain or snow and the temperature is within 10 degrees of freezing—22 to 42 degrees Fahrenheit. In that situation, ice is melting and refreezing, and there could be a layer of water on top of ice or even “black ice,” which is nearly invisible—a crystal-clear glaze that blends with the road surface.

You can’t see it at all?
Not really. But when your headlights reflect off the road at night, that’s black ice. It tends to be on bridges, which trap the cold; in the shadows of tall buildings, where the sun can’t hit it; and at intersections, due to drains. That’s why, in bad weather, you should slow down a couple of hundred feet before stop signs and lights. People often hit their brakes at the last second, and intersections become curling rinks.

On the highway, how much space should there be between you and the car ahead of you?
I tend to follow people like I’m driving a tractor trailer, meaning that I stay back 100 yards—about the length of a football field. That seems like a lot, but you’re going to need room to stop in case that person brakes suddenly. Still, it’s close enough to use his headlights to see what’s up ahead.

What speed should you be driving on icy or snowy roads?
It’s best to go about 10 miles per hour below the speed limit until you get a feel for the road. If it still feels iffy, cut back another five miles per hour until you’re comfortable. Don’t worry what the guy behind you is thinking. If he wants to sit on your back bumper, he’s welcome to do so. (See more safe driving tips for bad weather.)