How to Drive Safely on Black Ice
Black ice is a nerve-wrecking hazard to even the most confident drivers. It can catch you by surprise, forcing you to react in a heartbeat. Caused by either freezing rain or the melting and refreezing of water or snow, black ice’s ability to lie undetected, disguised as pavement, is obviously what makes it so dangerous.
Below are four tips to remember when you encounter black ice on the road.
1. Set your expectations and keep your eyes open
Knowing when and where to expect black ice is the first step to avoiding it. Black ice generally forms late at night or in the early morning when temperatures drop and the sun hides from the sky. Without the direct warmth of the sun, shady stretches, such as tree-lined roads and tunnels are more vulnerable. Bridges and overpasses are big offenders too, as they are enveloped by cool air, which brings about faster freezing. Low traffic routes also tend to have more ice than well-maintained popular roadways.
While black ice can be hard to see, in the right lighting conditions, it is sometimes possible. Watch for glossy surfaces that don’t match the dull pavement. Another clue is if you notice vehicles swerve up ahead for no apparent reason.
2. Slow down and try to get traction
If you see black ice in the distance, look for an area that will provide you with more traction. For instance, snowy or sandy patches. Even textured ice is a better option. Otherwise, slow down by lifting your foot off the accelerator. If possible, shift into a lower gear, as low gears provide more control. Do not touch the brakes, as this is more likely to cause you to skid.
3. Stay calm
If you do hit an icy patch, it’s crucial to stay calm and not panic. Black ice is generally patchy, which should allow you to get some traction in between patches. Rarely does a black ice patch stretch any longer than 20 feet. Just try to ride it out by doing as little as possible. Avoid hitting the brakes and keep the steering wheel straight.
Should you lose traction or skid, brake gently, steering into the direction you want to go. If your car has an anti-lock braking system (ABS), apply firm pressure to the brake and the system will pump the brakes for you.
4. In the worst case scenario, aim for the best case scenario
Remaining calm will help keep your mind in control even when your car feels beyond your control. If you find yourself skidding off the road, do your best to steer into a direction that will cause a minimal amount of damage, such as a snow bank, field, or yard.
At this point, you will likely feel pretty anxious about getting back on icy roads. If you must continue driving, take your time and drive slowly using your hazard lights. Otherwise, pull over at a rest stop or wait at the side of the road for road crews to remedy driving conditions.