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I Thought It Was a Puddle: Black Ice Driving Danger

By Lependorf & Silverstein on January 8, 2018

New Jersey winters are unforgiving. It is a hassle, but we must take additional precautions in our daily lives just to make sure we stay warm and safe. One of these involves being extra-cautious while driving. Getting behind the wheel is already the most dangerous thing most Americans do each day, and adding dangerous winter factors like black ice, snow, and even regular ice can make it that much worse. You may think that crashes involving icy roads are only caused by careless drivers, but everyday drivers who think they are driving cautiously can be surprised by black ice and lose control of their vehicles, too.

Read below for more information how to combat some of these easily misjudged road hazards.

Black Ice

It’s hard to fight what you can’t see. Black ice is the king of winter driving dangers. It’s called black ice because it is clear and blends in with its surroundings, making it look black like the pavement.

According to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Andrew Mussoline, black ice forms when it is raining and the air is at or below 32 degrees Fahrenheit at the surface. When the rain hits the ground, it freezes upon impact, immediately forming ice. The refreezing of snow or sleet can also cause black ice to form.

Because black ice leaves you at the mercy of the weather, most of the precautions you can take involve being aware when black ice is on the ground. Here are some ways to stay vigilant:

  • Check your car thermometer. If the temperature on your car thermometer is at or below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, black ice is a definite possibility.
  • Take a look at the pavement. Although your car thermometer will give you an approximate reading of the temperature outside, it is not absolutely accurate: it’s important to actually step outside and take a look at the pavement yourself. You may be able to see right then and there whether or not there is ice on the ground. Black ice will look dark and glossy compared to the lighter-colored, dry pavement. It might look like a puddle, but knowing the temperature outside, you will know that it is black ice.
  • Know when and where black ice is more likely to occur. Black ice develops most often between sunset and sunrise, when temperatures are lowest. Locations that freeze more quickly are prime spots for black ice to form. These includes bridges, overpasses, and shaded or tree-covered parts of the road.

All of this vigilance, however, will not stop you from having to physically drive on black ice. Unless the road has been subject to thorough salting and sanding, you will be driving on the slippery ice. Here is what to do while driving on black ice:

  • Keep your distance. It takes twice as long to stop when driving on black ice, so maintaining at least a five-second distance from the vehicle in front of you can help prevent a rear-end crash.
  • Do not slam on the brakes or overcorrect the wheel. Drivers make this mistake in many situations, not just when driving on black ice. It is a driver’s instinct to slam on the brakes and overcorrect the car when skidding or sliding. However, this overcorrecting can cause the car to spin further out of control, or even flip the vehicle. If you find yourself skidding on black ice, hold your wheel steady and lightly tap the brakes to reduce speed slowly.

Deep Snow and Regular Ice

Wired’s Jack Baruth suggests that you upgrade to new snow tires first before driving in the winter weather. Although they might seem like a cost burden up front, snow tires will probably pay for themselves after a few New Jersey winters. Their deeper tread allows them to cut through the snow and grip the road more effectively. As far as your driving behavior, the good news about both regular snow and ice is that they are easier to see than black ice. However, it’s still easy to misjudge the depth of the snow or the extent of the ice. You should check the weather report before leaving in your car.

Slowing everything down is key for both snow and ice. Brake slowly, accelerate slowly, steer and turn slowly. If you do skid, go against your instincts and turn the wheel in the direction of your slide, allowing the car to straighten itself out (National Weather Safety).

At the end of the day, an educated driver is a safe driver. Drive with safety in mind, focus on the road, and go slow—this will help you to get to your destination safely. If you do suffer a winter car accident through no fault of your own, don’t accept another driver claiming that the weather was to blame. People still need to be careful, and can be held responsible for your medical bills and vehicle damages when they’re not. For a free consultation with a NJ winter weather accident attorney at Lependorf & Silverstein, P.C., call us at (609) 240-0040.

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