A common cause of winter motor vehicle accidents is a condition known as "black ice." Black ice is a coating or a glaze that forms on roadway surfaces, sidewalks and driveways generally due to freezing rain or because of the melting and refreezing of snow or ice. It is commonly called black ice because it is clear and looks like the black surface which it covers.
Black ice forms without creating bubbles or the white sheen that is seen on most ice covered surfaces. Black ice is very dangerous because it is very hard to detect until you are right on top of it. Black ice usually forms when the temperature is just around the freezing point. Black ice can also form on roadways due to the heat of the tires which causes the ice to melt and then refreeze.
Black ice can be especially dangerous to the new or inexperienced driver so it is important to review a number of safety tips to help avoid these winter driving accidents.
An important consideration is to understand when and where black ice forms. Generally, black ice will form in the early morning hours or at night when the temperature drops or when the sun is not out to warm the roads. It can also be commonly found on roads that do not get much sunshine because the sun is blocked by trees or other objects. It can also be found more frequently on surfaces that are less traveled upon.
These slippery surfaces are more common on overpasses and bridges because cold air is able to pass over and under these roadways causing them to freeze faster. The roads located under bridges and overpasses also tend to freeze quicker because they are shielded from the sun. So if you are driving during these times or on these types of roadways be especially careful and always be prepared for the possibility of encountering black ice.
Although black ice is clear, so it can be very difficult to see under most driving situations, it can be easier to see under certain lighting conditions or if you are looking for it. Most times, black ice is very smooth and very glossy so the roadway without black ice will appear a dull black color. If the roadway looks shiny then you are probably about to drive over black ice. Another indication is if you suddenly see cars sliding, skidding or swerving for no apparent reason then black ice is probably present on the road. Although you will not always be able to detect black ice it is helpful to be on the lookout for it and to constantly assess the roadways you are on and what lies ahead.
One of the best ways to prepare a newly licensed or inexperienced driver to for these driving conditions is to practice driving on ice, in a controlled and safe environment, like a large empty parking lot, with an experienced driver. Practice braking and steering on ice to get a feel for how the vehicle reacts. Allow the new driver to get a feeling of how the car reacts and practice safe and defensive driving techniques. Be sure to teach, review and practice a number of safety tips such as:
- In driving on black ice it is best not to panic or hit the brakes and do not turn suddenly to one side or the other. Generally, you should do as little as possible and just allow the vehicle to safely pass over the slippery surface;
- If you feel the back of your vehicle sliding out to the left or right, gently and slowly turn the steering wheel in the same direction. If you try and turn your vehicle in the opposite direction then you run the very real risk of spinning out of control and getting into an accident;
- Once you realize you are about to go over or on black ice take your foot off of the gas pedal and keep your steering wheel, whenever possible, in the same direction it is in when you entered the icy surface;
- If you are driving a vehicle with a standard transmission, and it is safe to do so, downshift as the lower gears will give you more control;
- If you are able to steer to an area that is not covered in black ice or is sanded, and it is safe to do so, slowly go to that area;
- Realize that black ice is patchy so you should hopefully find better traction shortly;
- If you skid and are going to go off of the road try and steer towards something that will cause the least amount of damage possible like an empty area; and
- After you have had your black ice encounter stay calm and if you must continue driving do so very cautiously. Flash your lights to warn oncoming traffic of the hazard they are about to encounter.
You can also do several things to reduce your risk of getting into an accident if you should encounter black ice:
- Do not drive, whenever possible, in conditions that are especially dangerous;
- Make sure your vehicle is functioning properly including having the proper tires and tread depth;
- Travel with your lights on so you can more easily spot black ice and be more visible to other vehicles;
- Drive slowly and keep a safe distance apart from other vehicles;
- Do not have any distractions about or around you; and
- Make sure your windshield is cleared so you can properly see outside your vehicle.
Using these safety tips and techniques can help you to prevent a winter driving accident and can save you, your family members or others on the road from suffering a serious injury or even death.