Things to Remember When Driving on Icy Roads

Audra Fordin
February 13, 2012

Look Out for Black Ice
Believe it or not, black ice is not really black! Seriously, have ever seen black ice? I would think not. Black ice is a transparent layer of ice that looks black, because it’s so thin that you can see the road surface below it. Any ice is dangerous to drive on, but black ice is especially bad because it fools you into thinking the road is only wet, not icy. Then, you do 35mph around a corner and ... BAM! Trust me. I've taken one too many falls on it not to know that black ice is out to get you.

Ice prevents your tires from maintaining a good grip on the road, and not having good traction can lead to problems with steering and braking—even a 4WD vehicle doesn’t fare much better on ice. Chains are the best way to gain traction on ice, though stopping distance is still several times greater than on dry pavement with ordinary tires.

Black ice is most common at night and very early in the morning, when temperatures are typically their lowest. Isn't that convenient? You're tired and you can't see, so let's throw in a slick surface! Sorry. It is usually thin enough that it melts soon after sunlight hits it, but it can last much longer on shaded areas of roadways.

After a long cold night, when the temperature drops below freezing, expect that ice has formed on the road. Even if the air temperature is above freezing, the roads may still be frozen. Keep your eyes open for signs of ice when you get outside. Frost on your windshield, mirrors, and doors are all red flags! Ice on your can can mean ice on the road.

Be Careful on Bridges and Overpasses
Do you know why bridges and overpasses are the most dangerous parts of the road in the winter? They are made of concrete. Even dirt and asphalt retain some heat, but concrete doesn’t soak up any heat from the earth.

Think about a bridge—there is no land beneath it to provide warmth. Wind passing constantly above and below bridges keeps them mighty chilly. Since bridges and overpasses do not receive as much heat from the ground and lose more heat to the air, they can drop below freezing even when the rest of the roadway doesn't.

Drive Slowly and Be Safe
To ensure your safety when driving on icy conditions, don’t use the cruise control. Cornering and making turns are notorious for hiding ice spots, so slow down on turns and avoid snow drifts. I know this sounds obvious, but drive slowly, and keep a safe distance from the other cars on the road (at least three car lengths). Hey, you may get there a little late— but at least you'll get there alive!

Audra Fordin

About the Author

Audra Fordin is the owner and operator of Great Bear Auto Repair in Flushing, New York, which specializes in foreign, domestic and hybrid vehicles.

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