What is Black Ice and How to Drive on it


If you have to get out during inclement weather, ice is one of the biggest hazards, especially “black ice” (which, of course, isn’t black at all).

Black ice forms on surfaces like roads, driveways and sidewalks and is referred to as “black ice” because you can see the road underneath. Black ice forms during freezing rain or when snow melts and re-freezes. Black ice also forms without creating bubbles, which means it blends into any surface it forms over, making it very dangerous, especially when driving.

Many experts advise you to not drive when black ice may be present but if you have to get out, there are some steps you can take to prepare for the potential of black ice.

Before you head out, remember that:

  • Black ice forms most commonly at night or in the early morning when the
    temperatures are at their lowest, or when the sun isn’t around to warm the roads
  •  Black ice tends to form on parts of the road without much sunshine, such as along
    a tree-lined route or a tunnel. It will also form more frequently on roads that are
    less traveled on.
  • Black ice forms readily on bridges, overpasses and the road beneath overpasses.
    This is because the cold air is able to cool both the top and under the bridge or overpass, bringing about faster freezing.

When driving:

  • If you are driving and see cars suddenly swerve for no apparent reason, black ice is a likely cause.
  • If you do hit black ice, your first reaction must be to remain calm and avoid overreacting. The general rule is to do as little as possible and allow the car to pass over the ice.
  • Do not hit the brakes, and try to keep the steering wheel straight. If you feel the back end of your car sliding left or right, make a very gentle turn of the steering wheel in the same direction. If you try to struggle against it by steering in the opposite direction, you risk skidding or spinning out.
  • Slow down by de-accelerating. Lift your feet off the accelerator completely and keep your steering wheel fixed in the position it’s in. Slowing down will give you more control and prevent needless damage.
  • If you skid or lose traction, stay calm. Hopefully, you are now going slow and this will
    make it easier. Black ice is often (although not always) patchy, so hopefully your tires will soon find traction. Use the minimum amount of braking possible, although some braking will be necessary if skidding a lot, as follows:
    • If you have anti-lock braking system (ABS), just put your foot on the brake, apply
    firm pressure and the car will pump the brakes for you as you skid.
    • If you don’t have ABS, pump the brakes gently as you skid.

The above tips are from fs.usda.gov.

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