How to navigate black ice

This winter has been everything if not unpredictable. While the enduring Midwestern cold spell has been snapped by a flash-in-the-pan heat wave, only to be frozen over again by the weekend, this schizophrenic stretch will wreak havoc on roadways, most notably with the scourge known as black ice.

Black ice appears, if at all, like dark, wet pavement, though exponentially more dangerous. The American Meteorological Society says it’s caused primarily by light rain or drizzle hitting a road surface that is freezing. With roads cooling and heating on a day-night pattern, early mornings and evenings will be particularly treacherous, with bridges and overpasses as the most hazardous stretches.

AAA Chicago offers the following tips for driving on black ice:

Be sure to have a winter weather kit in your car. The kit should include an ice scraper, a blanket, flashlight with extra batteries, jumper cables, bag of kitty litter, reflective triangles/flares, shovel, cloth/paper towels and a fully charged cellphone.

Remove the snow from the entire car so it doesn’t blow onto your windshield or the windshields of other drivers. Make sure your mirrors and lights are clean.

Be aware of and on the lookout for black ice.  Pavement with black ice will be a little darker and duller than the rest of the road surface. It commonly forms on highly shaded areas, infrequently traveled roads and on bridges and overpasses.

Use extreme caution on bridges and overpasses. Bridges and overpasses freeze first and melt last.  Although the roadway leading up to a bridge may appear to be fine, use caution because the bridge itself could be a sheet of ice.

Slow down. Drive, turn and brake slowly. Adjust your speed to the road conditions and leave yourself ample room to stop. Give yourself three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you.

Be alert of traffic ahead. Slow down at the sight of brake lights, fishtailing cars, sideways cars or emergency flashers ahead.

Don't use cruise control in precipitation and freezing temperatures.

Avoid unnecessarily changing lanes.  It increases your chances of hitting a patch of ice between lanes that could cause you to lose control of the vehicle. Avoid cutting in front of trucks, which need more time and distance than passenger vehicles to stop.

Drive with your low-beam headlights illuminated.

Four-wheel drive helps you to get going quicker, but it won't help you stop any faster.

Tips for Braking on Black Ice: 

Avoid it, if possible. If you’re approaching a patch of ice, brake during your approach. Control the skid. Applying pressure to your brakes while on ice will throw your car into a skid. 

Control the skid. In the event that your car is skidding, ease off the accelerator or brake and steer in the direction you want the front of the car to go.

If your car has an anti-lock braking system (ABS): Do not remove your foot from the brake.  When you put on the brakes hard enough to make the wheels lock momentarily, you will typically feel the brake pedal vibrate and pulsate back against your foot. This is normal and the system is working as it is designed to. Do not pump the pedal or remove your foot from the brake.

If your car does not have an anti-lock braking system: The best way to stop is threshold braking. Keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal to the “threshold” of locking your brakes. Remember, you must keep your heel on the floor. If your heel leaves the floor, your brakes could lock.

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