Driving on snowy, slushy, icy roads is hard enough when you can actually see the danger. But what happens when you hit a patch of black ice—one of the sneakiest, most hard-to-see hazards on the winter roads? First of all, don’t panic! Here’s everything you need to know about black ice—including how to drive on it safely.
What is Black Ice?
Black ice (also called clear ice) isn’t really black at all. It’s thin and totally transparent, and when it covers a road, you can see the road beneath it, which is why it appears to be black. There’s not usually a lot of snow or sleet surrounding a patch of black ice—which means drivers have an even harder time seeing it. Black ice is virtually invisible, and very difficult to detect in advance.
Tips for Driving Safely on Black Ice
- Remain Calm
If you do encounter black ice, the best thing to do is remain calm and don’t make any sudden, dramatic actions. Do as little as possible and allow your car to gently pass over the ice. Try to keep the steering wheel straight, and don’t slam on the brakes.
- Steer Into the Slide
If you feel your car’s back end sliding either left or right, gently turn the steering wheel in the same direction. Turning the wheel in the opposite direction puts you at high risk of spinning out or skidding.
- Decelerate (Don’t Brake!)
Slow your car down by removing your foot from the accelerator and keeping your steering wheel in a fixed position. Slowing down this way will give you more control.
How to Avoid Black Ice
Even though black ice is really, really hard to see, knowing where and when it’s most likely to exist can help you feel more prepared and at ease. Black ice forms most commonly at night or in the morning when temperatures are at their lowest. It can also form over parts of the road that don’t get a lot of direct sunlight, or are not traveled on often. And, while black ice can technically pop up anywhere, it’s very likely to be found on bridges, tunnels and overpasses. If you’re able to avoid driving on these areas in the winter, great! If not, just be extra cautious, aware, and alert.
Be sure to always keep a winter emergency kit in your car, and brush up on how to handle common roadside issues. Remember—drive slowly! It’s better to arrive at your destination late than not at all.