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.
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 causes 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
Black Ice 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!
Some black ice can also be formed by blowing snow that has drifted onto the roadway. For example, salt that is blown out of snowplows can melt the snow, but then the melted snow can refreeze onto the road surface. This shows that even during a bright and sunny day, black ice can still put drivers at 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.
Black Ice Detection Systems
Meanwhile, thanks to recent technological advancements, there are some black ice detection and warning systems that have been developed. As you might expect, these detection warning systems send out alerts or warnings to drivers when there is a presence of black ice detected on the road up ahead. This warning will then give you, the driver, enough time to process and adapt to the situation accordingly.
The first patented technology behind this is developed by two Finnish firms (VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and EEE Innovations). The first application has been offered to CMV owners and operators, but the invention is also applicable to non-commercial vehicles. What the invention does is to accurately detect slippery road conditions in real-time. The technology used also costs significantly lower than any other methods already being used.
Some systems consist of an imaging sensor which gives the vehicle a forward field of view processed by a control system that will detect the presence of an ice layer on the road.
Some detection systems may also rely on a polarizing element, using light waves. Some use infrared beams that are emitted to calculate the presence or absence of ice( or water). They can do this based on the optical properties of the reflected infrared light that the system receives.
The only downside here is that these black ice detection systems may cost a lot. And, it’s currently being used by commercial vehicles or CMVs, so it may be hard to get a hold of one.
What To Do While Driving On Ice
If you discover that you’re driving on ice, there is one thing you must do before anything else – remain totally calm Do NOT hit the brakes and don’t make any sudden movements with the steering wheel, even if you feel yourself sliding. The best thing to do is to slowly take your foot off the accelerator. Slow down as much as you can without putting yourself in danger of being rear-ended. Try to find a safe and secure location to park your vehicle, such as a parking lot. It is not recommended that you stop on the roadway, including the shoulder. The shoulder of the road can be extremely dangerous!
Make sure all driving inputs are done in slow motion. No sudden movements. Unlike snow where you can safely navigate through in most cases, when driving on ice, you should find a safe location to park as soon as possible. Ice is not something to take a chance with. Yes, it’s that dangerous!
Beware Of Ice On Bridges And Overpasses
We often see those warning signs about ice forming on bridges before the roadway, but since we see them so frequently, we often forget that ice really DOES form faster on bridges and overpasses. This is especially true for black ice. Whether the roadway has been treated or not, black ice can form (or reform) extremely quickly. When driving at or below freezing temperatures, be extremely cautious on bridges and overpasses, especially if they appear to be wet. The wet-looking surface may actually be ice.
My Personal Warning
As a long-haul truck driver, I drove through many different types of weather conditions. I’ve driven through thunderstorms containing tornadoes, blizzards, dense fog, high winds, and even through the outskirts of hurricanes. I can tell you that without a doubt, the worst accidents I’ve seen have been during icing events.
When the ice started forming, I would always shut the truck down immediately. But I often saw the aftermath the next day. After an icing event, the roads and medians look like war zones. Most wrecked cars on the expressway end up on their roof or on their sides. Sometimes the impact is so great due to people crossing the median that cars burst into flames after being hit head-on by oncoming traffic.
I don’t ever try to use scare tactics on this site, but driving on ice is something that needs to be given a great amount of respect. I don’t care how good of a driver you are. If you don’t have traction, there is no way you can drive safely. Even if you truly believe you’re good at it, the people driving around you probably aren’t. Please, I’m begging you, if an icing event is forecast in your area, plan on staying home during the entire duration of the storm.
I’ve seen too many people get hurt simply because they thought they thought the risk was worth it. Even the best drivers lose to ice.