How to Survive in Deadly Black Ice on Winter Roads

Black ice is almost impossible to see, it can form almost anywhere on the road and can send your vehicle into oncoming traffic. It is bad news. Here’s how you can spot this nasty black ice and avoid accidents by hitting the road while on vacation.

What is Black Ice?

In short, black ice is pure ice that forms on a black surface, like an asphalt road, and merges with it, making it difficult to see. This is dangerous because it can hide in plain sight and lead to loss of vehicle control on busy roads. It can form in several ways , including:

  • The snow melts during the day, the roads become wet, and at night they freeze again like pure ice.
  • Rain wets the road and forms puddles before temperatures drop and freeze.
  • When moisture in the air condenses and forms fog or dew, which then freezes on the road.

For it to form, the road surface must be at or below 32 degrees Fahrenheit . This means that bridges and overpasses are particularly prone to icing because cold air can flow under and over the road surface. The same goes for shaded areas of the road, where temperatures will be much lower than in areas heated by the sun.

How to notice it

To find black ice, it is helpful to know where it forms. As mentioned earlier, look for bridges, overpasses, foothills where water can accumulate, and wherever sunlight cannot reach, especially during daytime. In addition, roads with heavy ice traffic are less likely to be covered in ice than rural or suburban roads. It is important to know when to observe this too. Most of the black ice forms when temperatures drop, so be on full alert from dusk to sunrise. Check the thermometer in the car to see what the conditions are. Somewhere in the 40s and below (taking into account the inaccuracy of the calibration) – a dangerous zone.

But how do you notice what is so difficult to see? Look for sections of sidewalk that are slightly darker and dimmer than the rest of the road at night. During the daytime, look for glossy wet surfaces in or around shaded areas of the road. Julie Lee, AARP’s national director of driver safety, invites you to take a close look at the sidewalk before you even get into your car. How does it feel? If it looks dry but you see spots on the road that look dark and glossy, it’s probably black ice. If it is wet and not frozen, ice may remain, but only in darkened areas.

You can also determine ice conditions by watching the vehicles ahead. Robert Sinclair, Jr. of AAA Northeast, suggests that the New York Times pay special attention to the tires of other drivers. If the road glistens like it’s wet and the tires are splashing water, it’s probably not icy. If there is no spray, watch out for dark spots.

What to do if you lose control on black ice

If you bump into a piece of bare ice and begin to slide, remove your foot from the car’s accelerator pedal, but do not apply the brakes. Braking will lock your wheels and you will go even further. Grab the steering wheel and make small adjustments if you can ( like bumping into a slide ), but don’t twist too much or you will only worsen the slip or start spinning.

Of course, the best thing you can do is not to lose control while driving on an icy road with extreme care. Do not engage cruise control in cold weather, stay alert and drive as slowly as possible. Don’t let passengers or other drivers talk you into going faster for the sake of convenience. Get there safely or don’t go at all.


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