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Black Ice Avoidance

Winter driving is tough enough without the worry of black ice. Roads covered in snow are challenging, but on most drives we can know what we are dealing with. Black ice, however, is invisible and often appears where it is least expected.
Black ice is not, as the name might suggest, actually black. Although called black, it is its transparency that permits it to blend into the road pavement no matter the type, whether asphalt, concrete or other. It forms when light rain or fog encounters a road surface whose temperature is at or below freezing. Black ice can form suddenly, so it is important to know how to prepare for, detect and handle this type of condition. The big danger behind black ice is that it is very hard to spot. Most people drive right over it, not knowing that it is any different than regular pavement until their vehicle loses traction. IF you were to spot black ice, you would look for very shiny smooth sheets that look like wet, glossy, pavement. Whenever the roads seem to be wet it is important to be vigilant while driving even if they are not frozen!

To help avoid accidents involving black ice, consider these tips:

When can black ice form?

1. The air temperature need not be at or below 32 degrees; only the ground temperature must be at or below freezing.

2. Black ice is more likely to form during rain, fog, and mist in cold weather, when the ground is cold and there is moisture.

3. Black ice can form at any time, but tends to form most in the early morning and evening.

4. Bridges and overpasses ice over before roads do because they do not have the benefit of being surrounded by insulating soil, which can trap warmth. They are entirely exposed to the ambient temperature.

5. Black ice can form at tunnel entrances when there is a water source nearby, such as runoff. Because tunnel interiors are not lit by sun, black ice can form on the pavement within the tunnel if there is a source of water.

6. Black ice can form in the shadows of buildings if the ground temperature is at or below freezing.

7. Black ice can also form when roads are wet, but the temperature suddenly drops.

What are some signs of black ice?

1. Though the environment is wet, no water sprays up from the tires of nearby vehicles.

2. If the pavement shows signs of darker and duller color than other parts of road, there may be black ice.

3. If it is misting or raining, the back of the vehicle mirrors will start to freeze with no notable signs of water dripping off them.

What not to do?

1. Do not brake hard. If there is a concern that black ice exists, slow down and gently apply brakes before approaching an icy patch. Lift the foot off of the accelerator and glide over the ice before braking and accelerating again. You’ve hit black ice and your car is slipping and sliding. You’re first instinct is probably to hit the brakes. NO! The lack of traction on the ice can cause your car to spin out of control when the brakes are pushed. The best method when over black ice is to take your foot off the gas, let your car slow down naturally, and keep your wheel straight in the path you are heading. Basically, the less you do the better!

2. Don’t make any sudden movement, such as turning or changing lanes, which could cause the vehicle to skid.

3. Do not tailgate. Safe following distance is essential to avoiding collisions under black ice conditions. Keep a safe distance from other vehicles while driving. If you or another driver come in contact with black ice and swerve out of control, a collision will be less likely!

4. Avoid the use of cruise control in icy conditions.Cruise control is a wonderful thing on long road trips, right? Not in the ice! Avoid using this popular vehicle feature in any winter weather conditions.

What to do?

1. Evaluate the weather before starting to drive. Understand road conditions before the vehicle moves.

2. Increase the following distance from vehicles ahead. Allow for reaction time and plenty of gentle braking to stop or maneuver safely.

3. Downshift to a lower gear before coming upon black ice.

4. Keep the steering wheel straight. If the vehicle starts to slide, turn the steering wheel into the direction of the skid.

5. Evaluate the tires and make sure the tire tread is in good condition. Have the tires and brakes evaluated prior to the winter season and maintain proper tire pressure. If you live in an area that has frequent freezing temperatures throughout the winter months you may want to look into getting snow tires for some extra tread. This will help your car stay in control during both icy and snowy conditions!

6. Drive slow. This may be the most obvious pointer on this list, but definitely be the most helpful! Driving slow will not only help your vehicle stay in control, but will assist in avoiding collisions with other vehicles or objects. By taking your time you will have a better idea of the conditions underneath you on the road. Be patient-Help ensure that you get to your destinations with you and your vehicle in one piece!

7. Use the car thermometer only as a gauge of determining temperature and the risk for black ice, as it might not always be accurate.

8. Wear your seat belt.

9. Drive with low beam headlights even in the daytime to help make your vehicle more visible.

10. Listen to the news and weather forecasts. It’s a good way to hear of icy conditions or even accidents that could indicate icy roads.

11. Remember- If you are ever involved in an accident do not panic! Call the appropriate authorities to assess the well being of everyone involved and any damage that has occurred. 

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