With winter on the horizon, there are many unfamiliar obstacles new drivers will face. Cold and dark mornings and nights, limited visibility, wet roads, snowy roads, and many more conditions will be thrown at you this winter. Although all of these conditions must be met with caution, one of the hardest conditions to drive on – one of the most dangerous of all – is black ice. According to the Zebra, “More than 150,000 (156,164) auto crashes occur annually due to icy roads, federal data shows. (FHWA).”

What is Black Ice?

Black ice is a thin layer of ice that forms on surfaces like roads and sidewalks. It’s usually water that has frozen or refrozen (as opposed to snow), so it’s crystal clear – making it almost impossible to see over asphalt. This is why it gets the nickname, “black ice.” It blends in with the black asphalt. 

Because it’s hard to see, it can be dangerous to walk or drive on. This ice forms when the air temperature is close to the freezing point of water, but the surface of the road or sidewalk is below freezing. This can happen when water from melting snow or rain puddles hits the cold surface. The water then freezes and forms a thin layer of ice. It can also form when moisture in the air condenses on a cold surface, such as a metal railing. When this happens, the water droplets freeze and create a lightweight film of ice. Although black ice is thin, it can be very slippery and treacherous to walk on and drive on.

In this article, we are going to look at the dangers of black ice and what you should do as a driver to stay safe on the road this winter.

Dangers of Black Ice

So why do they call it black ice and why is it so dangerous? Icy roads are one of the most dangerous weather conditions to drive in because it is so hard to see. It is a thin layer of ice that forms on roads and sidewalks when the temperature drops below freezing and there is no moisture to form snow or sleet. As we touched on, the ice is called “black ice” because it is so thin that you can see the asphalt through it. This ice is especially dangerous because it can form quickly and without warning. 

How to Drive on Black Ice

If the temperature is in the 40s or below, icy roads are possible. That’s why when driving in winter weather, even in southern California, it’s important to be on the lookout for icy roads – especially early in the morning or late at night.

To spot black ice, keep an eye out for areas where the road appears wet, but there is no sign of snow or sleet. Bridge decks, metal plates (like manholes), and overpasses are especially susceptible to ice, so use caution (slow down) when driving over them. 

If you do encounter black ice, don’t panic. Just take your foot off the gas and steer gently in the direction you want to go. Don’t brake suddenly, as this could cause you to lose control of your car. And if you start to skid, don’t turn the wheel too sharply. Black ice can be tricky to spot and dangerous to drive on, but if you use caution, you’ll be able to get through it safely. When in doubt, pull over and call a parent or guardian for help.
For more information on how to drive in all winter conditions see our blog here.