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Winter driving isn't just about dealing with snow; ice is a real threat. Black ice, in particular, is dangerous because it's invisible. However, you can protect yourself by understanding and knowing how to deal with this winter issue.
- Understand Black Ice: Black ice is regular ice. It is a glaze that forms on surfaces (especially roads, sidewalks, and driveways) because of a light freezing rain or because of melting and re-freezing of snow, water, or ice on surfaces. It's called "black ice" because it tends to look like the rest of the pavement on the road, although in reality, it's actually clear.
- Know Where to Expect Black Ice: Black ice usually forms just about the freezing point. Sometimes in frigid weather conditions on highways, black ice will form due to the heat of tires on the road coupled with the freezing temperature. Keep an eye on the weather and highway reports.
- Know When to Expect Black Ice: Black ice tends to form in the early morning and evening. During the daylight hours, the road is usually warmer and less likely to create black ice. But remember: less likely does not mean "never".
- PRACTICE DRIVING ON SLIPPERY SURFACES: If possible, (and with a seasoned winter driver) practice driving on ice in a safe surrounding. Find a nice, large, empty parking lot with ice on it. Drive on ice. Practice braking on ice. Understand how your car feels and handles in these conditions. Know what ABS braking feels like if you have it. This can actually be a lot of fun!
- See the Signs of Black Ice: If you are driving and see cars suddenly swerve for no apparent reason, black ice is a likely cause.
- SLOW DOWN BY DEACCELERATING. Slowing down will give you more control and prevent needless damage. DO NOT TOUCH THE BRAKES. Doing so will likely cause you to skid.
- If you can, shift into a low gear. Low gears will give you more traction and control.
- Find Traction Areas: Black ice is virtually invisible, but you may be able to head towards areas of pavement that offer more traction: textured ice, snow-covered areas, spots with sand. Try to stay in your own lane.
- If You Skid: STAY CALM. Hopefully, you are now going slow and this will be easier. Black ice is often (although not always) patchy, so hopefully your tires will soon find traction. Use the minimum amount of braking possible.
- After the Black Ice Encounter: Stay calm. You're likely a bit rattled, but panicking now isn't going to help. If you must keep driving, do so very, very, very slowly. Alert other drivers by flashing your lights as you pass them.
- GET OFF THE ROAD ASAP: It's better to wait a while at a rest stop, restaurant, or even on the side of the road until the road crews can salt and/or sand the roads than to deal with an accident.
- If You Are Going Off the Road: Try to steer into things that will cause the minimum amount of damage. Ideally, steer into an empty field, a yard, or a fluffy snowbank. (Of course, you may not have much choice in the matter, but you can at least try).
- IF THERE'S A PILE-UP: Very rarely ice and/or black ice can make extremely hazardous conditions that can cause multi-car accidents on a highway. You will have to evaluate whether staying in your car (where you have some safety protection) or getting out (where you can flee further collisions but by walking on icy surfaces) is safer. Consider your location, the speed of travel, geographic location, and your physical abilities.
- If you have ABS brakes, know how they feel when they engage so you don't panic and that you understand what denotes slippery conditions--even if your car is still in control.
- Remember 0% traction is still 0% traction: even if you have all-wheel drive, 4 wheel drive, or an SUV, once you lose traction the car itself won't help you. Drive safely and cautiously no matter what your vehicle.
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