Black Ice Dangers and Precautions

Colorado Winter

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), black ice is considered to be one of the most dangerous winter road hazards because it forms quickly and is easily camouflaged to motorists.

Before you drive on icy roads and highways this winter, it’s important to understand the dangers and warning signs of black ice, and how to be a safe and defensive driver if you should hit a patch of black ice.

How Black Ice Forms

Black ice is also known as “glare” ice because it is a thin, transparent layer of ice that reflects off of dark pavement surfaces. Drivers often mistake the patch of black ice for a shiny puddle of water. As they drive over black ice, their tires slip, which causes the vehicle to spin and skid.

Black ice forms when air temperatures reach above freezing and the pavement’s temperature drops below freezing. Black ice is more prevalent when there’s an increase in air moisture, and after a snow or rain storm. However, black ice can still form even when it’s not raining or snowing. It is more likely to form in early morning hours when the pavement is still cold.

Drive carefully over bridges and underpasses, because they typically freeze first. Air circulates above and below these structures, and the pavement temperatures drop rapidly, causing black ice to form quickly.

Stay Safe on Icy Roads

When driving on icy roads, be a defensive and cautious motorist. The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that over 1.5 million weather-related crashes happen each year in the U.S. due to adverse weather conditions (i.e. fog, rain, sleet, and snow), or as a result of slick or icy pavement.

Follow these winter driving guidelines:

  • Make sure you and your passengers wear a seatbelt.
  • Use snow tires or make sure your tires are in top condition. A sturdy set of tires on your vehicle will give you better traction when you hit an icy patch.
  • Drive cautiously and slowly when conditions are right for black ice.
  • Do not tailgate other vehicles, because you will need that extra car length if you brake, hit an icy patch, and lose control of your vehicle.
  • Keep your vehicle’s windshield clean. If your windows are dirty and covered in ice or snow, you are less likely to see a patch of black ice while driving.

Warning Signs of Black Ice

  • Temperatures fall below 40 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Low areas with water run-off from nearby land or trees are prone to black ice
  • Pavement surfaces look dry but appear darker in color
  • Roadways are shaded from the sun or near large trees

What to Do if You Hit Black Ice

If you hit a patch of black ice, follow these tips to regain control of your vehicle:

  • Do not brake too quickly, because it could cause you to lock your brakes and lose tire traction.
  • If your vehicle has anti-lock brakes, don’t pump the brakes or remove your foot from the brake pedal. The anti-lock brake system will keep brakes from locking while allowing you to steer and slow down your vehicle.
  • Slowly take your foot off the accelerator and shift the car into neutral, or declutch if you have a manual transmission.
  • If your car starts to spin or skid out of control, don’t panic. Turn your wheel smoothly in the direction of the spin. Avoid jerky wheel turns and movements.