Winter driving can be one of the most challenging kinds of driving, even for experienced drivers. When the roads begin to freeze over, black ice and icy conditions can quickly become extremely hazardous to you and other drivers. The following tips can help you navigate the treacherous, frozen roads and stay safe all winter long.
Keeping an eye on the temperature
Knowing the outdoor temperatures before hitting the road will help you make better decisions behind the wheel. As the temperatures approach the freezing mark (32-degrees F), you should prepare for freezing conditions on the road. Be mindful that bridges, overpasses, lightly traveled roadways, and untreated surfaces will freeze before main and treated roads. Drivers moving in and around construction sites should be extra cautious as the roadway surfaces can change quickly and have different freezing temperatures.
Where to expect black ice
While knowing the exact outside temperatures can help you determine if there’s a risk of black ice forming on the road, knowing where to expect it on the road is crucial. Since black ice forms as the temperatures dance around the freezing point, it will most commonly form at night and in the early morning hours before the sun gets a chance to warm up the roads.
With that in mind, you can expect to find black ice formation along tree-lined roads, tunnels and along the very edges of the roadway and on curves/bends where liquid may quickly re-freeze, even during daylight hours.
What to do if you have a black ice encounter
The first thing to always remember in an emergency is to remain calm. Driving on black ice can lead to momentarily losing control of your vehicle putting you and other drivers in danger. While your immediate reaction may be to pump your brakes, the best thing to do is not to do anything. Don’t hit the brakes and keep the steering wheel straight if possible; black ice typically is found in patches and rarely exceeds a 20-foot stretch. Letting your vehicle pass over the ice and then regaining traction is the best way to approach this hazard. If you begin to lose control of your car, lift your feet completely off the accelerator and keep your steering wheel straight.
As we previously mentioned, applying the brakes and struggling against momentum may lead to skidding or spinning out; instead gently turn the wheel in the direction of the skid to quickly regain traction. In a worst-case scenario – complete absence of control – you can still take measured steps to avoid a catastrophic collision. In vehicles with anti-locking braking systems (ABS brakes), apply even pressure until you’ve regained control while turning the wheel to the direction you want to travel. You should aim to direct the car/truck to a surface with more traction – textured ice, snow-covered areas, or sandy sections of the road.
Once you’ve regained control of your vehicle, you should try to get off the road as soon as possible. Most people may be shaken after a spin out and taking a few minutes to recompose one’s self is crucial to ensuring your safety and the safety of others. While knowing what to do in case of the worst, we can’t stress the importance of knowing how to prevent an incident. When driving in the winter weather, some simple preventative measures will go a long way: keep your speed down if there’s a chance of icy road conditions, do not tailgate, check your tire treads and tire pressure before getting on the road, and remember NEVER to use cruise control in potentially icy conditions.