Driving on black ice may be one of the most dangerous aspects of winter. Prepare yourself with these safety tips.
You've probably experienced it before. You're driving along at night, the road clear of snow and debris. Then all of a sudden, your vehicle starts sliding. You know immediately that you've fallen victim to driving on black ice.
The Federal Highway Administration estimates that over 150,000 accidents occur each year as a result of driving on icy pavements. While there's no official statistic, you can bet that many of these accidents probably had something to do with black ice.
What is black ice?Black ice isn't actually black. It's regular ice that forms on road surfaces with the exception that it has fewer air bubbles, which makes it harder to spot. Instead of ice, it tends to look like innocuous wet spots on pavement. Anyone with experience driving on black ice, however, can tell you that it's anything but innocuous.
Black ice commonly forms when the temperature of the ground reaches freezing while rain or sleet continues to fall. It also forms more often at night because the sun melts ice and snow, which then refreezes when the temperature drops. (Morning commutes become particularly treacherous with black ice.) Problem areas are around curves, at the bases of inclines, and anywhere else water collects on a roadway. Most of the time, you don't know you're driving on black ice until it's too late.
How to spot black iceSpotting black ice is tricky because it looks like water. The best thing to do is to be aware of the weather conditions. If it's below freezing or supposed to drop below freezing while you're out driving, assume that every wet spot you see is a patch of black ice. That may seem like overkill, but you'd be surprised how many times that assumption will prevent a spin-out or worse. If your car has an external temperature display inside and reads 32 degrees or below, any wet spots you see are likely black ice.
How to avoid it
Driving on black ice is difficult to avoid. First, you have to keep your eyes open for it. (And you have to be lucky enough to spot it.) If you see a spot you think might be black ice, drive around it as long as it's safe to do so. It's also a good idea to know the places in your town or city that are particularly prone to black ice and to avoid them whenever you have to drive in freezing temperatures. Finally, keep your eyes open for skid marks or stranded motorists. There's a good chance you're not the first one to have found the black ice!
5 tips for staying safe
Since you can't always see or avoid black ice, the next best thing is to know how to stay safe when driving over it. Here are some tips to keep in mind if you find yourself driving on black ice this winter.
1. Go slow and steady
Just like driving in snow, you'll want to go slowly and steadily over patches of black ice. Unlike snow, which still offers a little traction for your tires, black ice is completely smooth, and your tires won't stick at all. As a result, it can be difficult to stop if you're going too fast. When you reach a patch of black ice, take your foot off the accelerator immediately.
Additionally, keeping a straight wheel is advisable since you should be able to coast safely over the ice. If you turn your wheel while driving on black ice, you'll increase the likelihood of losing control of your vehicle. If you start to skid and have to turn, be sure to turn into the skid.
2. Avoid braking or pump brakes
Brakes can be your best friend in many driving emergencies, but not black ice skids. When you approach black ice, let off the brake before your tires make contact. If you're going too fast and need to brake a little, pump the brakes to avoid going into a full-on skid. Don't slam on the brakes under any circumstances—you'll only make your situation worse by doing so.
3. Know how to handle a skid
One of the biggest mistakes drivers make when driving on black ice is overcorrecting a skid. This can compound the problem quickly by sending the car spinning in the other direction. Gently turn into the skid while pumping the brakes. As the skid breaks, return the steering wheel to normal. Once your tires get traction on the road again, you should find it easy to correct from there.
4. Studded tires, snow chains, and four-wheel drive won't help
While these three features can be helpful in heavy snow, they are virtually useless on black ice. Again, black ice offers no traction at all, which means increasing traction is a moot point. (Anything multiplied by zero remains zero!) Don't think you're invincible with any of these snow tools. You're better off having a winter emergency kit in case an accident does occur—at least you'll be safe until help arrives.
5. Watch the temperature
Most cars these days come with an external thermometer. Pay attention to the reading during the winter months, and if it drops to freezing (32 degrees F), expect that you'll run into black ice somewhere. To be extra safe, use caution even when the reading is only near freezing as many car thermometers pick up heat readings from the engine, which can make it seem warmer outside than it actually is.
Anyone can fall victim to black ice. Find a Pekin Insurance agent today to make sure you're covered in case of an accident.
Have you had experience driving on black ice? What advice would you share with others? Let us know in the comments below.