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How To Spot Black Ice and How to Drive on It

Cars on black ice

If you have driven in New England with our cold winters, chances are you have been bombarded with warnings about black ice.

What is black ice?

Black ice is formed when the outside temperature is 32 degrees or below and there is rain falling. Because the temperature of the rain is just above freezing and the temperature of the air and ground are just below, the rain freezes on impact with the ground, creating a thin layer of ice. Black ice can also be created when there is a slight change in temperature above freezing, causing snow to melt quickly. Often overnight, the temperature will jump below freezing again, causing the melted snow to freeze and create black ice.

How do you spot it?

Black ice is not black. It’s called black ice because it’s a thin layer of clear ice that often forms over roads, giving it a shiny black appearance. The best way to spot black ice is to be mindful of when it tends to appear: Because black ice tends to form when there are small fluctuations above and below 32 degrees (and often when it is raining), drivers should be particularly cautious during these times. The only other way to spot it is to drive carefully and look closely.

Black ice looks like this: 

Black ice on road

How to safely drive on black ice

Once you understand what black ice it is important to know to drive on it. When you hit a patch of black ice try to follow these simple rules:

  1. Stay Calm – Your first reaction may be to slam the brakes and adjust your steering. This will only make matters worse. Instead, stay calm and keep your feet off the brakes.
  2. Slow Down – Avoid using the brakes, but make sure you take your foot fully off the accelerator. Your car will naturally slow down. If you have a manual transmission, you can also try down-shifting, as lower gear will give you more traction.
  3. Find traction somewhere – Odds are if you are slipping on a patch of ice, there are also non-icy areas of the road. You may also find an area covered in a layer of snow. Aim to drive over those areas without oversteering and your car will slow down.
  4. Try to stop the car if you lose control – If you fully lose control, gently pump the brakes and steer toward where you want to go. Eventually, the patch of black ice will end and you should regain control of your car. Hope you drive safely and if you hit black ice you can stay safe.
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