Driving And Safety
Ice covered roadway

How to detect and avoid black ice while driving

Ice covered roadway
B. Leslie Baird's image for:
"How to detect and avoid black ice while driving"
Caption: Ice covered roadway
Image by: Hugh Lunnon

Black ice can create extremely dangerous driving conditions. What makes this problem worse than just a snow covered road is that black ice is not easy to detect. The road ahead may even look dry until your vehicle is suddenly out of control. Even less comforting is the fact that black ice can form at slightly over the normal freezing temperature.

Snow and ice that has melted and then has refrozen is not always visible on the road surface. A shiny road ahead can indicate icy or wet pavement, but black ice may often appear as a darker surface ahead. The surface may also appear duller or more reflective than the surrounding roadway. Using headlights in potential black ice conditions may help to illuminate the problem.

What looks like a nice safe surface may well be the opposite. Extra caution should be used on roads near lakes or rivers and in shaded areas. Tree lined streets block the sunlight causing the pavement to be cooler than the same road area receiving sunlight. Overpasses, bridges and tunnel roads freeze more quickly and are prone to developing patches of black ice. Night and early morning hours are also times when the formation of black ice is more common.

Unfortunately, the easiest way to detect black ice is when your vehicle begins to slide. Do not hit the brakes; doing this on ice will only make the situation worse. Immediately let pressure off of the gas pedal and turn the steering wheel in the direction the rear end of the vehicle is sliding.

Lightly tapping the brakes can slow the vehicle down without contributing to the problem but do not overdo it. One or two gentle touches on the brake pedal are the best choice. Most patches of black ice only cover an average of twenty feet so with careful steering you should be able to reach safer ground.

Besides watching the roadway ahead, watch how other vehicles are navigating the road surface ahead of you. If vehicles further ahead begin to slide or spin, it is a clear indication of a black ice situation. Let off the gas before reaching the area and downshift the vehicle if at all possible. Downshifting will help slow the vehicle down without using the brakes and compromising the control.

For the greatest safety, check the road conditions before heading out. Drive more slowly and more cautiously and allow for more room between vehicles. This includes adequate space for vehicles to the front and also to the sides. A driver on the left or right may suddenly lose control just as quickly as a driver in front. SUV’s and trucks are no more immune to black ice as any other vehicle. Do not be lulled into a false sense of security, just because it handles snow well does not mean it handles ice well.


More about this author: B. Leslie Baird