Driving on Roads with Black Ice

May 16, 2019 • by Pete Balzarini

With the recent heavy snowfall in the Puget Sound area, it’s important that drivers be wary of driving in the snow, especially with black ice present. Komo News reported that snowstorms in February have resulted in around 3,000 vehicle crashes across Washington, from jack-knifed tractor-trailers closing Interstate 90 near Vantage to live chickens released on the highway near Olympia. It was later found out that many of these crashes were due to black ice.

Black ice is perfectly clear. It is often so thin that it can form even when the air temperature is above freezing. If the surface of the road is at 32 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, that may be enough to cause black ice to form, even if the thermometer outside your window says its above freezing. This is especially true in the morning hours, when the cold winter sun hasn’t had time to warm up the pavement yet. It’s also the time of day when you’re still half asleep and trying to hustle to get to work on time, which doesn’t help the safety factor.

Rural drivers also need to be aware that black ice can linger on the back roads. Cars and trucks on crowded streets, with their warm engines and tire friction, warm up and dry off roads pretty quickly. But if there haven’t been many cars on a stretch of road, there might not be enough warmth to melt the ice.

Some important tips for driving when there is a possibility of black ice on the road:

  • Keep your distance. The amount of time you need to stop your car on black ice can be up to nine times the distance needed to stop on a clear road.
  • Make sure your tires are in good condition. If the tire treads are worn, you will have less traction if you suddenly go over a patch of black ice.
  • Use headlights during the day. The lights can cause black ice to shine and help you avoid it.
  • Steer and drive slowly. Always use more caution when the temperatures are freezing. Do not make quick turns that could cause your vehicle to skid and a potential accident to occur.

If you do find yourself experiencing black ice, there are some strategies you can use to gain back control of your vehicle. Try to turn your steering wheel into the skid. Change the direction of your steering if the skid takes you in another direction. Maintain your speed and don’t suddenly apply the brakes or gas pedal. Push in your clutch if you have a manual transmission. Be gentle with your steering inputs. An overreaction could send your vehicle’s back end in the opposite direction. After straightening your vehicle, apply gentle pressure to the accelerator. With that being said, the only way to really be safe with black ice on the roads is to avoid driving when conditions are too harsh.

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