How to Spot and Avoid Black Ice on the Road

Braving the winter weather is an unavoidable part of life in New York State. As temperatures drop and the weather changes, many residents readjust their daily schedules to fit in more time for things like snow removal and holiday chores. One essential habit that should be changed during the winter is driver safety.

While driving in the spring, summer and fall can be simple and carefree, extra attention, time and precautions must be taken during the winter months. According to the United States Department of Transportation, icy roads cause over 150,000 car crashes annually. A significant portion of these crashes are caused by black ice. Black ice is a thin layer of transparent ice that is difficult to see and can lead to hazardous driving conditions. Use the following tips to prevent, identify and avoid black ice related car  accidents:

  • Know the conditions in which black ice forms
    • Black ice is most often formed after a light rain falls on a road surface when the temperature dips just below 32 °F. Take extra caution while driving on bridges and overpasses because temperatures drop quickly at higher altitudes. Tunnels and tree-lined roads are also at a higher risk for black ice formation due to the absence of direct sunlight.
  • Learn how to identify black ice
    • Black ice often appears to be just a puddle or wet spot on the road and is therefore more difficult to identify than other hazards. However, a layer of black ice is often shinier than other parts of the road. If most of the road is dull and black, but there is a more reflective patch ahead of you, it is possible that it may be black ice.
  • Keep a safe distance from the car in front of you
    • Braking while driving on ice takes nine times longer than braking on bare pavement. Because of this, it is important to keep a safe distance between yourself and the car in front of you. It is recommended that drivers maintain a distance of five seconds or more between their cars. This is especially important while driving in winter weather, because  it gives drivers extra time to react in case they encounter any dangerous obstacles on the road.
  • Be extra careful while driving in the early morning
    • Overnight, temperatures drop and cause road surfaces to become colder. When day breaks, the air heats up faster than the pavement. If the air is above freezing (32 °F) and the ground is below freezing, a light rain may turn to black ice as soon as it makes contact with the road. Driving slowly and with more caution during early morning hours decreases a driver’s likelihood of encountering black ice related problems.
  • If you hit black ice, keep your steering wheel straight
    • No matter what type of hazard  is encountered while driving, swerving and over correcting can turn a dangerous situation into an even more serious accident. Quickly turning the steering wheel often causes drivers to veer off the road or hit oncoming traffic. This is especially true for drivers who are trying to avoid black ice. The best way to avoid skidding on black ice is to hold the steering wheel steady without hitting the brakes. This will increase a driver’s chances of staying in their lane.

Driving in New York State during the winter season can be challenging. Knowing how to spot and avoid black ice on the road can keep you safe and prevent a possible accident.