Safely Driving When Black Ice is Present

Here in WA where I live we don’t have a whole lot of snow, although snow storms do roll in now and then. We can go all winter without seeing any major snow (We have so far this year!) but one thing we see plenty of in winter is black ice.

Black ice can be extremely dangerous simply because the roads look normal. There is no snow or visible ice and the roads look more or less dry so drivers aren’t a cautious as they would be if winter storm conditions were present.

Black ice isn’t technically black, it’s clear so that the asphalt beneath it shows through and because of that it isn’t visible except for a slight difference in the color of the regular asphalt where no ice is present.

Driving safely when black ice is present requires a little knowledge and a lot of cautious. Here a few tips to help.

1. Know the weather and understand when and where black ice might be present. As soon as temperatures drop to 34 degrees or so black ice might be present. Even when temperatures are climbing over that, black ice might be present because the asphalt retains the cold longer. Condensation from vehicles, fog, dew and light mist can all contribute to making black ice on the roads.

2. Black ice is most often present in shaded areas where the sun hasn’t yet reached to thaw and warm the ground.

3. Because bridges and overpasses have cold wind blowing below, they are usually the first place that water and condensation freezes. Slow down and be extra careful when driving over bridges and overpasses even when temperatures haven’t quite fallen below freezing.

4. Drive defensively and with more caution then usual. Allow maximum distance between your car and other vehicles. Slow down much sooner and much more slowly when approaching stoplights, stop signs or other vehicles, especially when break lights are on.

5. Avoid changing lanes if possible. Any time you go to change lanes or take unnecessary turns you put the vehicle at risk of spin outs.

6. Never use cruise control when icy conditions are present. Cruise control will interpret the loss of traction as decreased speed and accelerate which is precisely what you shouldn’t do.

7. If you hit a patch of black ice and start to skid, remove your foot from the accelerator. Do not stomp on the breaks even though your natural reaction is to do so. Turn the wheels in the direction of the slide (Your tire are designed to grip when they are going straight. Turning the tires in the opposite direction means that you turn the surface that can grab the pavement sideways sideways so that they can no longer grip. Think of it in skiing terms’ when you are sideways to the slope you can slide sideways but when you are going straight down the slope you can turn as needed). When the wheels have traction again slowly steer it where you want the front of the vehicle to go.

8. Finally, always be prepared for the worst. Always keep an emergency kit in the vehicle. Include blankets, flashlights with extra batteries (LED flashlights are great for emergency kit as they will outlast regular flashlights by up to 20 times), a small foldable shovel, ice melt, kitty litter, flares or emergency lights, jumper cables, triangle kits, hand warmers and a fully charged cell phone.

The bottom line is that taking the extra time to leave earlier in order to drive slower when black ice conditions are present is time you’ll wish you had taken if you end up in the ditch or worse because you didn’t.

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