Winter driving conditions can be tricky for even the most experienced drivers. While a snow-covered road can be an obvious driving hazard, a road that just looks wet can also be deceivingly slippery.
Black ice is a dangerous wintertime hazard because the icy road may not always be visible to the driver. Indeed, melted snow or ice that refreezes may still look deceivingly like a dry road. And temperatures don't have to be below freezing for black ice to develop. Black ice can occur if temperatures are near the freezing mark--or even a few degrees above it.
While a shiny road surface indicates an obviously wet or icy road, a road covered with black ice will look a little different. Keep an eye out for pavement that is slightly darker and a little duller looking than the rest of the road surface-- this may indicate that black ice is present. Because black ice is so tricky to detect, a driver may not realize there is an icy road surface until his car begins to slide. Here are some tips on how to drive on black ice:
- As soon as your car begins to slide on black ice, take your foot off the gas pedal. In fact, the last thing you want to do is give your car more gas. It is very important to slow down when you are driving on black ice or in any other winter road conditions.
- Don't slam the brakes. While it may be a natural instinct to slam on your brakes, this will only cause your car to lose control and slide even more. Tap the brake pedal lightly instead of pushing down hard on it.
- Look for trouble spots ahead. If you have an idea that there may be black ice ahead (if you see cars ahead of you sliding, for example), downshift to a lower gear before you come onto the black ice. The lower gear will force you to drive more slowly and it will give you better control of your car.
- If your car does begin to skid on the ice, turn the wheel in the direction of the skid. This should help to steer your car back on the right track.
- Leave plenty of space between your car and the other cars on the road. When driving on black ice road conditions, stay well behind the car in front of you (at least a couple of hundred feet)--this is definitely not the time to tailgate. Even if you feel confident that you know how to drive safely on black ice, that doesn't mean the driver in front of you does. Be prepared in case other cars start to slide.
- Don't think you're invincible just because you drive a truck or a big sports utility vehicle. While 4-wheel drive vehicles are great for driving in heavy snow, you're on your own when it comes to driving on black ice. In fact, 4-wheel drive vehicles have no advantage over regular cars when it comes to driving on black ice, so be sure to take the necessary safety precautions no matter what type of vehicle you are driving.
- Other precautions:
- Drive with your low beam headlights on even if it is daytime. This will make your more visible to the other cars on the road.
- Make sure your tire tread is in good condition as part of your basic car maintenance routine. Worn tires will make it much more difficult for you to drive on black ice. Make sure there is plenty of traction between your tires and the road surface.
- Black ice is most commonly found on roads that run around bodies of water (such as lake and rivers), in tunnels and in shady or rural areas. Bridges and overpasses are also common spots for black ice to form. Use extra caution on bridges and overpasses, where the road surface freezes more quickly. Even if you have been cruising down the highway with no problem, an overpass or bridge can be unexpectedly icy.
- Be sure to wear your seatbelt. Winter driving is always unpredictable so be prepared for the unexpected and keep yourself safe!