The Winter Hazard Nobody Sees Coming: Black Ice

The Winter Hazard Nobody Sees Coming: Black Ice

Black ice on winter road

Thousands of injuries and fatalities occur every year from accidents on snowy or icy roads, according to the Federal Highway Administration, but many drivers are unaware of a common culprit in many of these accidents. Black ice is a transparent glaze that forms without bubbles, allowing it to easily blend into the surface of the roads.

Black ice is most likely to form when there is a sudden temperature drop, such as in the early morning and evening hours. Common problem areas are bridges, overpasses, and shaded areas of the road. These areas have much colder surfaces that rapidly freeze when air moisture makes contact—especially if they're near lakes or rivers.

Learn these warning signs

When favorable conditions are present, be on high alert. Black ice looks a lot like wet blacktop. Other indicators include:

  • Absence of water spray on a seemingly wet road
  • Cars suddenly swerving or skidding
  • Brake lights ahead
  • Cars or tire tracks in the ditch
  • Shiny surfaces next to a dull black

React with calm

If you're caught on black ice, use these tips to maneuver past the problem area:

  • Do nothing. Avoid making sudden moves or turning the wheel. Smoothly lift your foot off the accelerator and glide across the ice in a straight line until you find traction.
  • Shift. If possible, slowly shift to a lower gear for added control.
  • Brake wisely. If you begin to skid, firmly press on your brakes to activate the anti-lock brake system (ABS).
    Or, if you don't have ABS, pump the brakes gently.
  • Avoid spinout. If your front end is sliding, steer in the opposite direction of the skid; if the back end is sliding, steer in the same direction.
  • Look toward where you want to go. If you look where you think you might crash, then you might inadvertently veer the car in that direction.


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