When winter hits, it is important to know how to stay safe on the road. Snow can make for dangerous driving conditions, but ice can be even more of a threat. Despite its name, black ice is not actually black. It’s transparent, making it difficult to detect. If you live in areas that experience below freezing temperatures, you should be aware of the dangers of black ice and educate yourself on how to stay safe on the road.
How black ice forms
Black ice, like regular ice, forms because of light freezing rain and the melting and refreezing of snow, water, or ice on surfaces (particularly roads, sidewalks, and driveways). Black ice differentiates itself from regular ice because it forms without bubbles, making it difficult to detect on surfaces. This near invisibility is what makes it so dangerous.
Where to expect black ice
Black ice typically forms when the temperature hovers around the freezing point, when moisture on the pavement has the opportunity to melt and refreeze. The most common places black ice is found are sections of road without much sunlight, bridges, overpasses, and pavement under overpasses. In frigid temperatures, black ice can still form on pavement when the heat of tires can melt ice and snow and the freezing temperature refreezes it.
When you are driving in the early morning or evening, look out for black ice as warmer temperatures when the sun was up can give away to freezing temperatures, forming ice.
What to do if you slide
Hitting black ice can be terrifying and your first reaction may be to slam on the brakes. Do not do this. Try to remain calm and to maneuver your car as little as possible. Avoid hitting the brakes and try to keep your steering wheel straight. If you feel your car sliding left or right, gently steer in the same direction. If you jerk your wheel in the opposite direction, you could skid or spin out.
You can also minimize the potential of spinning out by taking your foot of the accelerator when you feel yourself sliding as slowing down will give you more control. If you are driving a manual, shift into a lower gear if possible. Black ice patches are typically shorter than 20 feet so you should gain traction again shortly. If you are able, gently head for a section of pavement that may have better traction. If you do spin out and/or go off the road, try to remain calm. Pull over if you feel rattled to give yourself a chance to recover.
Prevent run-ins with black ice
You will not always be able to prevent black ice encounters but there are some things you can do to prevent a spin out. The best way to prevent loss of traction is to drive slowly when ice may be present (near and below freezing temperatures). Driving slowly will give you more control and though it may take you longer to reach your destination, it will help keep you safe. If there are other drivers on the road, maintain a safe distance so you have more time if they break suddenly or lose control of their vehicle. Also, do not use cruise control on slick roads as this can increase your chances of skidding.
Basic car maintenance can also help keep your car from sliding,. Make sure your tires have proper tread and working headlights. If your tires are too worn, you will not have the proper traction on icy roads. Working headlights will also help in those dangerous early morning/evening times when black ice is most likely. If you see the sheen of black ice on the pavement, proceed with caution. A clean windshield will also help with visibility and potentially help you spot ice before you slide. See our blog post on how to winterize your car for more ways to make sure your car is winter weather ready.
Though you cannot always prevent icy road conditions, being aware of the potential of black ice can help you be more prepared if you should encounter it. By making sure your tires have proper tread, you can increase your traction on the road and hopefully prevent a spin-out. Remember, if you do skid or spinout, try to remain calm. SafeAuto offers coverage options to protect your car in case it is damaged in an accident. Get your free quote today at safeauto.com. Stay safe and enjoy the road ahead.