How to Safely Handle Black Ice this Winter

If you’re from the midwest, you’ve learned that black ice is a term that conjures fear and anxiety during the winter months. There are countless stories of black ice appearing out of nowhere and causing cars to swerve out of control. In fact, the USDOT Federal Highway Administration data lists an average of 1,836 deaths and 136,309 injuries per year due to snowy and icy roads.

We understand the danger of black ice and want to help you significantly reduce your accident risk by simply informing you about how to spot it and what to do if you encounter it.

What is Black Ice?

Contrary to popular belief, black ice isn’t actually black at all. Black ice is a thin layer of highly transparent ice that forms on roadways. The reason we call it black ice is because it blends with the pavement, therefore appearing black.

What Causes Black Ice?

During the winter, there are often random spurts of warmth. When the temperature rises above freezing, it often causes snowmelt, rain or mist, which results in large amounts of moisture on the road. Once the sun goes down or the temperature drops to below freezing (32°F), the moisture freezes. This sudden freezing of moisture on the roadways is what causes that wonderful black ice we know and love.

Where is it Commonly Found?

The most common places that black ice forms are on overpasses, bridges, backroads, shaded spots, sidewalks, and basically anywhere that receives the least amount of warmth during the day. Overpasses and bridges are especially prone to black ice formation since they’re elevated. Cold air flows underneath them, lowering the pavement temperature quickly.

Why is it Dangerous?

The most obvious reason is that it’s very slippery and hard to maintain traction. It’s also hard to spot due to its high transparency. Many people have a hard time identifying it from behind the wheel since it blends with the pavement.

It can also be confused for a wet surface, and as a result, people don’t approach it with as much caution as they should. If you hit it at a high speed and lose control, it’s very difficult to regain that control without causing yourself to spin out further. Even if you have an all-wheel or a four-wheel drive, you’re still at risk for losing control. Read our blog, Winter Driving Safety, to learn about the additional risks of driving in snow and ice.

Tips for Handling Black Ice

The first step is making sure you’re knowledgeable on what it looks like, what causes it, and where it’s commonly found. Although, disaster can still strike even the most knowledgeable and skilled drivers so it’s important to know what to do in that situation.

Here are a few tips for how to reduce risk:

  • Drive slowly and cautiously. Speeding will significantly raise your chances of an accident if you happen to hit an ice patch.
  •  Keep a good amount of space between your car and others. This will reduce the risk of hitting other cars if you spin out of control. It will also give you more reaction time if you notice another car losing control.
  • Make sure your headlights are on during times of the day with low lightings, such as early morning and late afternoon. This will help you spot shiny spots on the road that could potentially be black ice.
  • Check your tire tread. If it’s worn, you’re at a higher risk of losing control due to lack of traction.
  • If the conditions are right for black ice, never drive with your cruise control on.

What to do if you encounter black ice:

  • Keep your steering wheel straight. If you turn the wheel, there’s a greater chance that your vehicle will slide even more out of control.
  • Do not brake. Braking will also cause your vehicle to slide out of control.
  • Take your foot off the accelerator and reduce speed, letting your car slowly come to a stop. This is the best option if there’s enough room on the road in front of you and no one behind you.
  • If you happen to swerve off the road and become stranded, make sure your car is equipped with a winter car emergency kit.

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