Find out how black ice forms and how to recognize it for a safer drive
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Call it the invisible menace. Black ice hides in shadowy seclusion, in the worst travel conditions, waiting to do damage to motorists.
"The term, ‘black ice,’ is a misnomer,” says Dennis Madden, CEO of the Automatic Transmission Rebuilders Association. "It’s actually just a patch of smooth, clear ice. Because it’s clear, all you see is the roadway below. In fact, the only real difference between the appearance of dry roadway and black ice is a glaze you can discern when the light is just right. Like a reflection from your headlights.”
Madden offers the following "best practices” for driving in conditions that produce black ice.
Keep alert. Anticipate black ice formation and look for the sheen on the road. "Black ice only occurs when there’s water around,” says Madden. "Conditions such as freezing rain, sleet or snow that melted the day before are all likely sources. It also has to be cold enough for the water to freeze.”
Know when and where black ice forms. Typically, black ice forms during the evening, or in the morning in shady areas. Also, be careful on bridges. "Black ice likes bridges because the cold air blows above and below,” Madden says. "This causes water to freeze faster than on nearby roads.”
Stay calm. If you unsuspectingly hit a patch of black ice, don’t slam on the brakes. "Maintain your speed and direction and you’ll pass right over it,” Madden says. "The key to driving on ice is understanding momentum. Your car wants to continue traveling in its current direction and speed. As long as you don’t try to change momentum by slowing the car or direction by turning the wheel, you should make it through OK.”
Steer in the direction of the skid. "This should be easy because it’s your natural reaction,” Madden says. "If necessary, as you skid, try to gently direct your vehicle to the safest place to stop, such as the shoulder or a field.”
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