Driving in inclement weather takes intense focus. If you’re driving in a place that gets a lot of snowfall, you have to pay more attention to the road ahead, ensure that your car is in good condition and be prepared to add some time to your ETA. Hitting black ice is a scary situation and it can happen to anyone in any type of car. Be on guard, and take the right steps if it happens to you.
Black ice is just regular ice, with this exception.
The first thing to understand is that driving on black ice is not akin to driving on snowy roads. Helpful tools like snow chains and studded tires grip into snow-laden roads to create traction. Even with these tools, tires don’t have traction on black ice.
There is one factor that makes black ice more unpredictable than other wintery road conditions: When the ice forms, it freezes with fewer or no air bubbles. This gives the ice a wet appearance instead of an icy one. It forms on pavement that has reached freezing temperatures while freezing rain or snow continues to fall.
While it is more common for black ice to form at night or in the early morning before the sun warms up the pavement, it can still stick around throughout the day. Bridges, overpasses and stretches of road under the overpasses are places it tends to linger longer.
So what do you do when you’re driving to a wintery weather destination and you lose control of your tires? Ease off the brake until after your tires have made contact with the ice. Then turn into the skid rather than trying to overcorrect your steering wheel.
Your first response will probably be a panicked attempt to slam the brakes and turn against the spin-out, but don’t. If you go with the direction of the skid and pump your brakes, it will be less dangerous than sending your car veering the opposite way. Keep in mind that pumping your brakes once you’re on the ice is just a cautionary measure — it won’t completely stop the skid.
You’ll eventually feel your tires gain traction again, and this is when you can right your wheel and ease back onto the road.
If you’re really shaken, pull over to the shoulder, put your hazards on and take a minute to catch your breath and find your bearings.
It’s good to know how to handle black ice in the moment, but it’s even better to be proactive when navigating icy roads. Driving slow and keeping your eyes on the road, no matter how scenic, are your safest bets. Because black ice is transparent, it’s more than likely that you aren’t going to see it. If you are able to spot a glassy bit of pavement, get into a lane that has less of it when it’s safe to switch over.
Finally, keep a safe distance between you and other cars when driving in winter conditions. If the car ahead of you hits black ice and skids out, you’ll both end up in more danger, and no one wants to be stranded in their car on the highway in freezing temperatures.