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Stopping at an icy intersection

One day last winter while approaching a very icy intersection on a slight downhill grade - it was a four-way stop - I started to brake and, as expected, the ABS came on immediately. Nevertheless, my front-wheel drive Volvo, with winter-tread tires, slid through the intersection. I was, thank heavens, the only car around. My question is, since I was in Drive on my AT selector, would it have been better to have put the car in Neutral thus taking even the idling power away from the front wheels? Changing the car to a lower gear would not have worked as the transmission had not even shifted to a higher gear since I was going so slowly in any case having just left my house not far from the intersection. I am a former sailor but I don’t carry an anchor in my car that I could have thrown out the back!

No, it wouldn’t have helped. Ice is ice. It doesn’t matter how many fancy technologies you stick on a car, or what tires unless they’re studded or have special ice-handling materials (that wear off extremely quickly if you drive on pavement), you’re gonna slide if you hit solid ice. The solution is to slow down, and if it’s very icy out, don’t drive.

You were simply going too fast; when approaching intersections in the winter you do it slowly, since they are almost always icy due to the cars spinning their wheels and temporarily melting the snow. We live with winter 5 months of the year and the driving habits have to change whith the first snowfall.

Putting the car in neutral gives you no advantage; the tires still have to stop the car and if you are going too fast they just can’t do it. ABS only makes the car stop in a straighter line, and often takes longer than a skilled driver pumping the brakes of a non-ABS car. Stopping a car on a slippery surface has a lot in common with sailing; you need to plan ahead!

Learn in a parking lot (empty) how long it takes to stop

Intersections are also hazardous even when the rest of the street is ice-free because the exhaust from cars contains moisture, which freezes on the asphalt. You can’t even see that half the time. Around here they call it black ice, and it’s a factor (note I do not say the cause, because it’s still the driver’s responsibility to know it might be there and take steps to mitigate) in many accidents.

Logically put. If i had been going any slower, i would have been stopped. You’re right, if it’s icy, don’t go out in one’s car at all.

Having driven in all parts of Canada year round, I am familiar with driving on icy roads. I think, based on what you say, perhaps part of the problem was that I was on a down-slope. It’s like being on skis on ice. Even if the hill is extremely shallow, the skis, with whoever is on them, by the force of gravity is going to go down unless the skier can turn sideways and use the edges of the skis to stop. I agree with what you say about ABS as, in the past, in similar situations in earlier vehicles without ABS, I’m certain I had more control by pumping the brakes.

You are absolutely right about intersections being icier than the rest of the street which is why, in some municipalities, salt is thrown on the intersections first.

If the split second opportunity presents itself, steer off-line into the rough along the curb. ( as a Canadian driver, you probably already practice this technique ) The rough stuff that cars kick away has been my saving grace more than once. The main driving lane gets polished and zambonied by multiple cars driving there and great new traction is awaiting over by the side.
Even just somewhat off-line will get you off of the polished glaze. ( ex. fresh snow vs compacted snow will offer some degree of traction difference. )

My question is, since I was in Drive on my AT selector, would it have been better to have put the car in Neutral thus taking even the idling power away from the front wheels?

No the problems is you were going too fast for the road conditions (downgrade and ice) Better winter tyres may have helped you the most possible.

You now have the opportunity to be more aware of the problems of snow and ice.

In such a situation, can you gently steer the vehicle to the curb so thathe tires may encounter debris and snow which may help stop your vehicle?

When southbound approaching an intersection, I noticed a woman heading east down hill was traveling too fast for conditions. She had a STOP sign.
Then I noticed her wheelstop turning. headed for a collision.
I started pumping brakes (before ABS) and guided my vehicle to the right were there was more material.
Still sliding, I was able to slow enough that she passed in front of me and I missed her rear by about 1 foot.


That video is all you need to see to know the wisdom of staying home sometimes :wink:

Take a good look at those winter tires for this season. With ABS all 4 tires need to be the same tread type, rubber compound, tread depth, and air pressure. As soon as one tire looses traction the ABS kicks in and essentially reduces you braking power to prevent a wheel locking up. This allows you to steer, but it really doesn’t help slow the car much on ice. If one tire is low on air pressure compared to the other 3 that can really hurt your braking on ice with ABS.

So, be sure all 4 tires match are in good shape and have the same air pressure. It is no magic bullet but at least you know you’ve got the best chance of reducing your skid potential.

As far as putting the car in neutral, it likely wouldn’t make a difference but in the same situation I’d slip it into neutral. I drive a stick shift with winter tires and I’d have put in the clutch under same circumstances in that car. If you had just started the car before encountering this intersection and it wasn’t fully warmed up the fast idle system could have still been on and that would make a difference.

Or this: :stuck_out_tongue:

My question is, since I was in Drive on my AT selector, would it have been better to have put the car in Neutral thus taking even the idling power away from the front wheels?

Absolutely it would be ! Not at higher speeds, but definitely at lower. That delicate balance in maximizing braking with abs advantages makes taking the drive from the drive train worth it. I deal with it every day in the winter and it’s is definitely worthwhile on ICE. WE do it instinctively when we clutch a manual as we are about to stop in normal conditions, and could do as well on ice with an automatic .