Don't Let It Slide: Heed AAA's Black Ice Driving Tips

By Matt Schmitz  on January 27, 2014

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This winter, large swaths of the nation have become coldly cozy with terms like "polar vortex" and "arctic blast," as January's repeated bouts with subzero temperatures and heavy snows have virtually frozen people in their tracks, canceling school, closing offices and grounding countless airline flights. And in the worst cases causing horrific traffic accidents like one in Indiana last week. According to The Weather Channel, Tuesday’s wind chills will dip into 20s, 30s and 40s below zero in the upper Mississippi Valley, northern Plains, Great Lakes, northern Ohio Valley and central Appalachians, with little improvement expected Wednesday.

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That means now would be a good time for a reminder about the dangers of black ice. "Snow, extreme cold and blizzard-like weather can create extremely dangerous driving conditions for motorists on most roads," according to roadside-service giant AAA. "After extreme conditions, black ice is often prevalent on the roads, which can be extremely dangerous for drivers."

AAA offers the following tips for motorists who encounter black ice while driving:

  • Be aware of and on the lookout for black ice. Pavement with black ice will be slightly darker and duller than the rest of the road surface; it commonly forms on highly shaded areas, infrequently traveled roads, bridges and overpasses.
  • Use extreme caution on bridges and overpasses, which typically freeze first and melt last. Even if the roadway leading up to a bridge appears to be fine, use caution as the bridge itself could be covered in a sheet of ice.
  • Never use cruise control.
  • Avoid unnecessarily changing lanes, which increases your chances of hitting a patch of ice between lanes that could cause you to lose control of the vehicle.
  • Drive, turn and brake slowly, adjusting speed to road conditions and leaving ample stopping room (three times more than usual) and watching for brake lights, fishtailing or sideways cars and emergency flashers.
  • Avoid braking on ice. If you approach a patch of ice, try to brake in advance and control the skid by easing off the accelerator and steering in the direction you want the front of the car to go.
  • If you have antilock brakes, do not pump the pedal; the vibrations and pulsating against your foot when you press down are the system working. For drivers without antilock brakes, use "threshold braking," keeping your heel on the floor and using the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the pedal to the "threshold" of locking your brakes; removing your heel from the floor could cause your brakes to lock.
  • Use your low-beam headlights.
  • Remember, four-wheel drive doesn’t help you stop any faster.
  • Keep a winter-weather kit in your car, containing an ice scraper, blanket, flashlight with extra batteries, bag of kitty litter, shovel and charged cell phone, as well as reflective triangles or flares, cloth or paper towels and jumper cables.

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