Black Ice and You/Winter Conditions and Driving

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You may agree that winter this year has been particularly brutal. Freezing temperatures and snow storms lead to constant shoveling and other great workouts. Many people I talk to can't recall a colder winter since the late 1970's.

These extreme cold conditions are ideal for the formation of Black Ice because even road salt is ineffective when the temperature dips below -18C. A little knowledge goes a long way in dealing with black ice hazards so here are a few points that can hopefully save you and others from serious injury related to a black ice related car accident.

When Driving

  1. Contrary to the name, the ice isn't black, it is the inverse actually, barely detectable. Under certain lighting it may be a bit more visible but generally, the most we can do is know where and when to expect a possibility of it. Although black ice can form at any time, it tends to manifest late at night and in the early morning hours and it is most common in less travelled areas as well as bridges and overpasses (in roads above and below). A tell-tale sign is a glossy appearance on the road as opposed to its usual gritty quality.
  2. Obviously winter conditions in Canada call for more than the usual amount of care and precaution while driving. Whenever there is snow on the roads or the threat of ice, it is always wise to travel at reduced speeds. Remember, the posted speed limit is the maximum speed under ideal conditions. Don't feel like you must drive the speed limit when the roads are covered in snow or ice. Tailgating is never a good idea and is even more dangerous under these conditions. Always leave yourself at least twice the normal stopping distance that you would under dry conditions.
  3. Okay, so sadly you hit a patch of black ice and panic envelops you to the point of immobility. Unfortunately, our first reaction is usually to slam on the breaks. This is generally the worst thing we can do. If your car does not have ABS brakes, your front wheels will lock up as soon as you hit the brakes. Your front wheels are only able to steer the car when they are turning, so by locking the wheels you are no longer in control of your vehicle. Your situation may be slightly better with ABS brakes, these are designed to not lock up, but even ABS brakes don't help much on black ice.

How to handle black ice on the road:

  1. The first thing you should do is remove your foot off the accelerator, allowing the vehicle to naturally slow down. Keep the steering wheel as straight as possible, making very slight movements to stay on course if the back of the vehicle decides to swerve in a particular direction.
  2. Riding out the experience can be very challenging, but it is imperative to remain calm. By now, the vehicle should be decelerating, and depending on the situation, you may need to help the system along. If possible, shift into a lower gear. If additional help is needed, GENTLY TAP the brakes, and keep the vehicle pointed in the direction that you are heading. Any excessive braking can result in skidding and spinning out.
  3. Try to limit injury to you and your passengers and damage to vehicle by steering into a safety zone. Open areas, a fluffy snow bank, a parking lot, anywhere that can slow you down in the safest way possible.
  4. After your ordeal, take a few deep breaths to help calm down but don't linger in the area since there could be more cars coming along that hit the ice patch and you don't want to be a target if they lose control. Try to find a safe place where you can pull off the road and relax.

When Walking:

  1. Try to stay on pathways as much as possible, avoiding the road at all costs. Losing control and balance in oncoming traffic which may be enduring the same problem as you are is a sure recipe for disaster.
  2. Wearing proper footwear is essential; it helps with traction and is very practical. Try wearing clothing that will not impede your vision. Hoodies, hats, and scarves may be fashionable but can pose a distraction or cause you to miss critical signs of possible danger.
  3. As with the road, black ice on the sidewalks may not always be visible. It can be covered with a recent light frosting of snow. When walking in potential hazardous areas, try bending your knees and walking with slower, shorter, more deliberate steps.
  4. If you suspect the sidewalk is slippery and the snow is not too deep beside the sidewalk, away from the road, consider walking on the snow-covered grass instead of the sidewalk. It may be more of a workout but the risk of slipping and falling is much less.
  5. Pay close attention to stairs, taking them one at a time and using the guardrail when possible.

Winter conditions are an ordeal that has to be dealt with yearly and while it may become second nature to us, vigilance and caution are our strongest allies.


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