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

CARS.COM — 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 and ice have virtually frozen people in their tracks, canceling school, closing offices and grounding countless airline flights — and in the worst cases causing horrific vehicle 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. That means now would be a good time for a reminder about the dangers of black ice and driving on ice.

Related: How to Survive Winter With Rear-Wheel Drive

“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 on how to stay safe for drivers who encounter black ice while driving:

  • Drivers should always 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; ice 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 during winter driving, especially when there is a strong chance of ice and slippery conditions. 
  • Avoid unnecessarily changing lanes while driving, which increases your chances of hitting a patch of ice between lanes that could cause you to lose control of the vehicle. Expect to take more time during winter driving.
  • Drive, turn and brake slowly, adjusting speed to road conditions and leaving ample stopping room (three times more than usual) and watching for brakelights, fishtailing or sideways cars that could indicate freezing roads, and emergency flashers.
  • Vehicle tires struggle to maintain traction on ice. When driving in slippery conditions, 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 when your vehicle loses traction. 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 in ice driving conditions and during freezing rain. 
  • Remember, four-wheel drive doesn’t help you stop any faster. Your four-wheel-drive vehicle will still lose traction when driving in icy conditions.
  • 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.
  • Invest in the right tires. Winter tires are your best bet when driving during freezing weather.

When it comes to staying safe in ice driving situations, reading all the tips in the world will only help so much. Informing yourself about ice driving can’t make up for experience. Ice driving experience helps you understand how your car will react in slippery situations caused by snow or ice. Getting a feel for how your car handles snow and ice on the pavement makes it easier to react properly if you start to slide. While it’s important to keep these tips in mind, no winter driving tips will make up for real-life experience driving in inclement weather. 

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