Black Ice: Everything Drivers Need To Know

Winter’s a dangerous time of year for motorists. One of the greatest sources of danger is black ice. Here’s what you can do to spot it and, if worst comes to worst, what to do when you’re on it…

What Is It?

Sometimes called ‘thin ice’, black ice is a thin layer of ice that clings to surfaces in such a way that it’s nearly invisible. Visually transparent, it blends in with tarmac. It therefore poses a significant skidding risk to drivers and other road-users. It forms in sub-zero temperatures, typically following light rain.

How To Spot It

It’s not easy to spot black ice for the reasons mentioned above, but there are steps that can be taken to mitigate your chances of coming into contact with it. First of all, recognise the areas where it tends to form. You’ll typically come across it at times when there’s a lack of sunlight, so at night and before sunrise. This also means that it’ll appear and linger on parts of the road where there’s shade.

You’ll find a greater concentration of black ice on bridges and overpasses. Why? Because cold air is able to cool both the tops and bottoms of them which makes them freeze more quickly. Because black ice is so thin, it can appear glossy when exposed to light.

As it’s likely to appear when there’s reduced visibility, you’ll probably be using your car’s lights. This means that, whilst driving at a reduced speed, you may spot it from a safe distance. Whilst this won’t always work, it pays to be vigilant.

What To Do If You’re On It

It’s just a fact of life that no matter how responsible and observant you are, you’re bound to end up on black ice at some stage in your driving career. It can be a daunting experience for anyone, the kind that makes your heart leap out of your chest. But it can and should be dealt with properly. The most important thing is to avoid overreacting and to remain calm.

First of all, given that it only appears in frosty conditions you should have been driving at a reduced speed. The general consensus is that you shouldn’t do much at all i.e. make any sudden movements with the wheel or any harsh braking. Keep the wheel straight unless the rear of your car is sliding. If you are sliding, turn the wheel into the direction the car is moving very slightly.

Gently come off of your accelerator and, if possible, move down into a lower gear (this will give you more grip and greater control of the vehicle). If you can, try to safely move into areas of traction, such as areas with textured snow.

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