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In this compilation of posts, we will look at what is black ice  and discuss the dangers of black ice, including how to spot it, how to drive on it and how to know where it’s most likely to form.

What is black ice and how is it formed?

Temperatures warmer than the pavement cause moisture on the ground to freeze rapidly and attach itself to the pavement. Sudden changes in temperature–which are common after winter storms–often cause snow to melt onto roadways and create black ice. Black ice can also form when snow or light rain falls on still-frozen concrete, turning it to ice upon contact. This quick freezing is what gives black ice its signature thin layer. Black ice gets its name because the narrowness of the ice makes it practically invisible once it’s frozen against the pavement. This invisibility is what makes black ice one of the most dangerous surfaces for drivers.

Where is Black Ice Most Commonly Found?

Certain roadways are more vulnerable to black ice than others. They include:

  • Areas of roads that receive little or no sunlight. These stretches of road will be slower to warm in comparison to the air and are more likely to contain black ice.
  • Seldom-used back roads.That’s because increased road traffic creates friction, warming busier roads and preventing ice formation. Shaded spaces, such as patches of road surrounded by trees, are more likely to contain black ice.
  • Tunnels and underpasses. They provide plenty of shade for black ice to develop.
  • Bridges. They tend to remain extra cool because their height gives them greater exposure to cold winds.

This doesn’t mean that these stretches of road will be covered in black ice all winter. But knowing where to look for black ice and approaching these areas with extra caution is always a good idea.

How do I know if I’m driving on black ice?

One of the most dangerous aspects of black ice is that it’s nearly invisible. In fact, it takes drivers a while before they realize they are driving on black ice.

If you’re driving on black ice, the first thing you’ll notice is how slippery it is. Black ice is created by a small coating of frozen moisture on top of the pavement, making it more slippery than regular ice because it lacks air bubbles or slope variations that could provide traction. Experts estimate that the distance required to stop your vehicle while traveling on black ice is about nine times the distance required to stop your vehicle while traveling on dry pavement.

Shifts in your steering column that generate an exaggerated response are another telltale sign that you’re driving on black ice. When you are driving on black ice, shifts of the steering wheel can quickly cause your vehicle to skid.

How should I drive on black ice?

Winter driving is definitely challenging, but you can’t stay home all season waiting for the ice to melt. Instead, these defensive driving techniques can help counter any potential black ice patches you may face.

  • Slow down. This age-old defensive driving technique also applies to black ice. The slower you travel, the lower your chances of skidding—and the less violent any skid will be.
  • Don’t use cruise control. Your vehicle will try to maintain speed with no regard for the dangerous conditions beneath it.
  • Steer with clean movements. Avoid the urge to make jerky, reactive movements that could cause your vehicle to skid.

How do I recover from a black ice skid?

But what if you do all of these things and still end up in a black ice skid?

There are ways to recover, and they depend on the kind of car you drive.

Front-wheel drive
Front-wheel drive means that only the front two wheels are powered by the engine. This makes these vehicles better in harsh weather conditions than rear-wheel drive vehicles. That said, they are still vulnerable to skids.

If you find yourself in a skid in a front-wheel drive car, turn the steering wheel into the skid. If the skid reverses, change the direction of your steering wheel to follow the skid. Allow the wheels to maintain their speed—don’t apply the brakes or the accelerator.

If your vehicle has a manual transmission, push the clutch. Your car will begin to gain traction as the wheels’ speed catches up to the car. Remember, you may need to make several wheel corrections before the car gains traction.

Rear-wheel drive
Rear-wheel drive cars require the front wheels to steer while the rear wheels push the vehicle. This benefits braking and acceleration, but they are more prone to skids than front-wheel drive cars. However, recovering from a skid in a rear-wheel drive car is often easier than it is with a front-wheel drive car.

If you find yourself in a skid in a rear-wheel drive car, steer in the direction you want to go. This may mean a counter-steer if the back of your vehicle swerves away from this direction. Be gentle with the wheel as an over correction could send your vehicle’s back end in the opposite direction. Once you straighten out your vehicle, apply gentle pressure to the accelerator until your car’s engine speed matches the road speed.

All-wheel drive without anti-lock brakes

All-wheel or four-wheel drive cars provide the best balance and are the most resistant to skids. Many people, however, mistakenly believe that they are impervious to skids. A patch of black ice can still cause an all-wheel drive vehicle to skid.

If you have an all-wheel drive vehicle without anti-lock brakes, resist slamming the brakes when you start to skid. This is especially important with all-wheel drive vehicles because you are cutting power to all four wheels, making the vehicle operate like a front or rear-wheel drive vehicle. Instead, give the brakes a repeated light tap (known as pumping the brakes) while steering the wheel with simple, precise movements until you navigate yourself out of the skid.

Anti-lock brakes (applies to front-, rear- and all-wheel drive vehicles) 
Anti-lock brakes (ABS) offer better control and decrease the distance needed to stop your car. They are designed to prevent skidding. It's important to brake normally if your car has anti-lock brakes. Don't pump your brakes; the car automatically does that for you.

SOURCE - Erie Insurance - ErieSense Blog multiple articles.
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