Black Ice 101: Tips to Help Keep You Safe on the Roads this Winter Driving Season

Posted by on Nov 30, 2018 in Personal Safety Tips

As if snowy winter commutes weren’t difficult enough, black ice adds another level to winter driving stress that only those who have experienced it before can truly understand. What might be the worst thing about black ice is that while drivers can anticipate a snow drift ahead of time, drivers often don’t realize the invisible black ice is present and they’re at risk of hitting some and losing control of their vehicle until it’s too late and they’re already in trouble. Below we’ll explain how black ice forms, how you can spot areas and conditions which are favourable to black ice forming, and give some tips on what to do if you find yourself hitting black ice, so you can keep yourself and your passengers safe when driving in the winter.   So what causes the clear ice that hides in plain site on dark surfaces? There’s three ways black ice can form.

  1. When daytime temperatures rise and snow on the roads and shoulders of the roads begins to melt, the roadway becomes wet. When the temperature then drops back to freezing temperatures the water covering the road surface freezes clear.
  2. Winter makes most think of snow, however, if temperatures are at the right level there is a chance of rainfall. When it rains, roadways become covered in water and puddles form which then freeze solid and clear when temperatures drop below the freezing point again.
  3. Moisture in the air condenses and forms fog or dew which then freezes on the road surface.
It should be noted that bridges and overpasses are particularly prone to having black ice more often than the regular roadways since cold air flows underneath and above the roadways in these two areas causing the temperature of the road to drop faster and more easily than a normal roadway. How can you spot black ice or areas where there may be a greater chance of it forming?
  • If driving at night, be aware of any patches of pavement which are slightly darker than the rest of the road.
  • If driving during the daytime, look for glossy, wet-looking patches of road in or around shaded parts of the road where the sun doesn’t shine, making the temperature much lower than spots with sunshine reaching them.
  • You can also use the other vehicles on the road to help you identify whether there may be black ice present. If the roads are glistening like they’re wet and tires from the vehicles ahead of you are spraying up water, there likely isn’t black ice. If there’s no spray despite the roads looking wet, watch for the darker patches of the road as black ice may be present.
Even if you know all the signs to look for to predict whether black ice is present, you may still find yourself dealing with black ice when you least expect it. Knowing how to react to hitting black ice can be the difference between regaining control of your vehicle, ending up in the ditch or in an accident with another vehicle. If you hit a patch of black ice and your vehicle begins to slide, the best thing to do is lift your foot off the accelerator. Do not hit your brakes as braking will only lock your wheels causing you to slide and drift even farther. Be sure to hold on to the wheel with both hands and only make small steering corrections, but do not over-steer or you’ll make the slide worse and risk spinning out. To lessen the risk of sliding or spinning out of control on black ice, the best thing to do is drive extra carefully in the winter months even if roads look clear. Also be sure not to use your cruise control during cold weather conditions, and stay alert at all times. By giving yourself ample time to get to your destination you’ll also avoid the temptation to driver faster than the road conditions call for. By keeping these tips in mind before hitting the roads this winter season, you are in good form to predict the formation of black ice, know the signs to determine whether black ice may be present, and how to best control your vehicle if you find yourself hitting a patch of black ice. We hope these tips help you and your loved ones get to your winter destinations safely this season!

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