Driving on ice, or worse, driving on black ice, is extremely dangerous. This kind of driving poses unique challenges and risks. Even the most skilled drivers in the world tend to avoid driving when the roads ice up. If freezing rain is expected in your area, this is one time when you should absolutely heed the advice to stay home.
How To Drive On Ice
By far, the most dangerous driving condition is driving on black ice, otherwise known as glare ice. You’ve probably heard one of these terms used before, but what exactly is this type of ice and why is it so dangerous?
Simply put, black ice is a thin layer of frozen water which contains very few air bubbles. The lack of bubbles in the ice cause it to be completely transparent. Since the ice is transparent, it simply takes on the same color as the surface it’s attached to. So if you’re on black pavement, it will simply look like the asphalt. The only real visual warning you’ll have is that the roadway will have a wet appearance. The same is true for any road surface, including light colored roadways such as concrete or even red brick roads. It doesn’t matter if the surface is black, white, orange, green, or any other color. This kind of ice is almost invisible to the naked eye on any surface.
How Black Ice Forms
It forms in a few different ways. The most common way is when the outside air temperature is warmer than the roadway surface. Moisture is in liquid form, but immediately freezes when it comes into contact with the roadway surface.
A quick drop in temperatures can also cause you to unknowingly drive on ice. Water on the roadway can quickly freeze with a sudden drop in temperatures, especially on untreated roadways or across bridges and overpasses. One minute you may be driving on a wet surface, then suddenly the next minute you’re on black ice!
As seen in the photo to the right, this glare ice was caused by blowing snow drifting onto the roadway. Snowplows dropping salt melted the snow, but then the melted snow refroze onto the road surface. This shows that even during a bright and sunny day, ice is still a risk!
How To Detect Black Ice
Unfortunately, black ice is very hard to detect, especially when there is no sunlight illuminating the surface of the road which can sometimes create a glare. At night, it is nearly impossible to see even with the best headlights on the market. Luckily, there are some other warning signs you can look for.
Dangerous Temperature Ranges
If you live in a climate where temperatures reach below freezing, you should always have a temperature gauge in your vehicle. If your car doesn’t have one, you can buy them for relatively cheap on Amazon, Walmart, Truck Stops, or even some car washes.
Knowing the exact temperature outside is the best way to know if icing is occurring or could possibly occur. When the temperature starts getting close to 32 degrees Fahrenheit, or zero degrees Celsius, you should start getting concerned. While treated roadways shouldn’t freeze up as quickly, there will still be patches of frozen surfaces to be concerned with. Also be on the lookout for bridges, overpasses, lightly traveled roadways, and untreated road surfaces. These areas can become extremely hazardous very quickly. You should also use special caution crossing railroad tracks, driving through construction zones, and when changing from one roadway surface to another (such as from concrete to asphalt).
Look For Water Spray
If roadway icing is occurring, you will see very little if any water spray coming from the tires of your vehicle or other vehicles around you, even when the roadway appears to be wet. This is extremely dangerous as you are almost certainly driving on ice!!!
Feel Your Outside Mirrors
Here’s a trick I learned during my trucking days. If freezing conditions exist, ice will begin forming on the leading edge of your side mirrors. Open your window and run your finger over the front surface of your drivers side mirror (and/or have a passenger check on the passenger side mirror). If ice is forming on either mirror, that means it’s cold enough for water to freeze on the roadway.