Black Ice Safety Tips

Black ice is a thin coat of ice that covers roadways when the temperature is below freezing. It appears to be black only because it creates a clear, glassy coating that covers dark-colored roads – this gives it the appearance of being black. Black ice is created when rain/water falls on the roadway, or when sleet or snow freezes onto the roadway after melting. This produces a slick layer of ice that is dangerous to either drive or walk on.

Black ice

Black ice is dangerous in pedestrian and driver situations but poses a more significant risk to drivers. Because it is so hard to see, many drivers realize don’t they are driving over black ice until too late. Driving over black ice results in decreased control over the vehicle, causing spin outs and crashes.

What Does Black Ice Look Like?

Black ice can be hard to identify, especially while traveling in a car. However, understanding how and where it forms can help avoid it. Black ice forms in below-freezing temperatures. This makes it more likely to appear in the evening and early morning before the sun has been able to heat the ground and turn the ice back into water. This includes shaded areas and locations like bridges and overpasses.

Pedestrian Safety

When addressing black ice as a pedestrian, there are several key tips that prevent injury from black ice slips.

  • Wear shoes with a significant amount of grip. This effect can be simulated by sanding/filing the soles of non-grip shoes.
  • Calculated movement. Normal walking patterns result in slipping over black ice because they do not account for a lack of traction. Movements like shuffling, which keep the feet close to the ground, and remaining alert to large patches of ice will prevent falling.
  • Spatial awareness. Keep track of public handrails and ice patches while navigating black ice in public. At home, maintain safe walking conditions by shoveling and salting snow. This reduces the volume of water available to freeze and turn into black ice. 

Driver Safety

Take precaution before and during travel to avoid accidents caused by black ice. If black ice is a common occurrence where you live, replace low-traction tires with tires that have better grip. No matter the tire, these driving tips will help navigate situations that entail contact with black ice:

  • Black ice develops in areas like bridges, overpasses, and roads with light traffic. Keep this in mind to prevent black ice from catching you off guard.
  • Avoid patches of ice. Avoid the roadway with black ice by slowly turning around, preferably without breaking. If necessary, break slowly.
  • Safe traffic navigation. Keep extra distance between cars when driving in questionable weather conditions. Spin outs cause accidents and car crashes. Keep an additional 8-10 seconds worth of space in between cars to avoid this.

Sometimes contact with black ice is unavoidable. The following tips details the actions that you should take while actively driving on black ice:

  • When first approaching black ice, take your foot off the gas pedal – do not break. This decelerates the car without abruptly stopping it, which causes hydroplaning.
  • Do not stop on black ice. Cars are difficult to move from a dead stop on black ice.
  • Keep the car moving in the same controlled direction via the steering wheel. If the car begins to drift, keep the wheel directed toward areas that have traction (i.e. grass or snow).
  • Do not pump antilock brakes. Antilock braking systems automatically engage – this is observable through the vibrations that are felt through the brake pedal as the system activates.

Drivers should take special care to exercise caution in weather conditions that can lead to black ice.