Black Ice: Driving Tips, Safety Information and Accident Prevention

In this part of the world, only Maine gives winter the welcome and the worship it should have.

-Tom Allen

Maine winters are indeed beautiful.   But when winter arrives in Maine,  its beauty is tempered by hazardous winter driving conditions.  Snow and ice increase the likelihood of serious and sometimes fatal automobile accidents and make safe driving a real challenge.

As we welcome winter in our beautiful state of Maine,  the personal injury attorneys at Hardy, Wolf and Downing want to review winter driving safety tips so we can keep our roadways safe for all motorists.

One of Winter’s Most Deadly Road Hazards: Black Ice.

What is Black Ice?

Black ice is most likely to occur during periods of light freezing rain, in foggy conditions, or when snow and ice melts and refreezes on wet pavement.  Black ice forms as a glaze over the roadway and is particularly deadly because it is extremely difficult for drivers to detect.

Black ice forms without bubbles,  which helps it blend almost invisibly onto roadway surfaces – many deadly automobile crashes happen when unsuspecting drivers hit patches of black ice.  Fortunately,  with a little education on safe winter driving,  our personal injury attorneys hope that some of those deadly winter automobile crashes can be avoided.

Staying Safe on Winter Roadways: Understand Black Ice

  • Black ice usually forms at night or early in the morning, when the sun hasn’t had a chance to warm road surfaces. Watch for black ice on areas of the road that are shaded from sunlight (such as tunnels, tree-lined streets),  and on infrequently traveled surfaces (country roads).
  • Bridges and overpasses are notorious spots for black ice because cold winter air circulates above and below the road surface,  which causes lower temperatures and faster freezing. Be on the lookout for glossy areas on the road during the daylight hours.  You won’t always be able to see patches of black ice,  but being vigilant and aware of potential black ice hazards can help you avoid icy areas in some cases.  Black ice can occur anywhere and at any time (not always in spots where we would expect black ice to form),  so stay especially alert during winter driving.

Worst Case Scenario:  Your Car Hits a Patch of Black Ice

  • First of all,  stay calm!  Jerking the wheel back and forth,  hitting the brakes hard or generally panicking makes black ice an even greater danger. Don’t hit the brakes or make any sudden movements.  The general rule of black ice driving is “do as little as possible” if you’ve hit a patch of black ice,  allow your vehicle to slow so and chances are you’ll regain traction on a clear area of the roadway.
  • Do not try to overcorrect (steering hard in one direction or another)  if you find your car sliding left or right.  Instead,  turn your wheels GENTLY in the same direction of the skid.  Hopefully, this will give your time to gain traction on a clear area of roadway.
  • Take your foot off the accelerator and DO NOT hit the brakes.
  • Remember: black ice patches are usually less than 20 feet long,  so if you can slow down and avoid losing control of the car,  you’ll eventually be in the clear.
  • Shift into a lower gear.  This will give you greater control of your vehicle.
  • Gently steer towards areas of the road that offer more traction (such as patches of snow,  textured ice or areas of the roadway that are covered with sand or gravel).
  • If you do start to skid in earnest,  remain calm and don’t over correct.  Steer gently in the direction you want your car to go.  If you have anti-lock brakes,  hold the brake pedal down firmly.  If you don’t have anti-lock brakes,  pump the brake pedals VERY GENTLY.
  • If the worst happens and you know you’re headed off the road,  try to steer for open areas,  snow banks,  etc.
  • Be very careful when exiting your vehicle if you’ve gone off the road.  Other cars may lose control when they hit the same areas of black ice that caused your accident.  Get to a safe,  clear area as soon as possible.

A Few More Black Ice Safety Tips

  • Don’t EVER drive in icy or hazardous conditions with your cruise control on.
  • Keep your windshield and all windows clear of ice and snow,  and make sure your wiper blades are in good condition.  Keep a winter safety kit in your car,  and always have a good, sturdy ice scraper.
  • Check your tires often,  and make sure they are properly inflated and in good condition. (Worn tire treads give you even less traction,  and significantly increase the probability of an accident!)
  • If you can,  STAY HOME when the weather is bad.  If you can’t stay off the roads,  drive slowly and NEVER, EVER DRINK AND DRIVE.
  • Minimize distractions while you are driving. Cell phones,  radios,  GPS devices, and even other passengers can easily distract you from your most important job:  driving safely through dangerous wintery conditions.
  • Leave extra distance between cars (don’t tailgate!) and keep your lights on at all times for increased visibility.

Read More: Preparing Your Vehicle for Winter Driving

 A Note for Parents: Educate Young,  Inexperienced Drivers About Black Ice

Parents,  it is especially important to review winter driving tips with new and inexperienced drivers.  Young drivers often don’t know what to do if they hit a patch of black ice.  Help your children recognize black ice and the extreme danger it poses.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an automobile accident due to black ice or other wintery conditions,  please call Hardy, Wolf and Downing’s personal injury law offices.  We want all Maine drivers to stay safe, and hopefully, these winter driving tips can help prevent winter driving accidents and injuries.  But in the event of an automobile accident or injury due to black ice,  allow our experienced personal injury attorneys to assist you and your family.