The invisible threat: How to spot black ice on roadways when wintry weather hits

Winter Resource Guide

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Winter in Southern New England can bring with it harsh weather conditions, including snow, sleet, freezing rain and more.

These conditions can also lead to dangerous situations on the road.

When snow covers the roadway, we all know we need to slow down when the weather gets dicey to prevent a crash.

But there’s an invisible threat that many don’t consider when hitting the roads — both during and after — a snowstorm. Black ice, also called glare ice, is a thin coating of ice that is transparent and can be hard to spot.

Each year, 1,300 people are killed and more than 116,800 people are injured in crashes on snowy, slushy or icy pavement, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

Black ice is often most prevalent on roadways after snow, extreme cold or blizzard-like conditions, according to AAA.

During the afternoon hours, direct sunlight on a snowpack will cause it to melt. Usually, that melting will leave puddles on roadways, driveways and other solid surfaces.

When temperatures drop below freezing, a thin layer of ice will form on wet roadways and surfaces. When a vehicle passes over black ice, it loses traction because the tire is moving over a frictionless surface.

That’s when you can lose control of your vehicle.

How can you spot black ice?

Black ice is usually slightly darker or duller than the rest of the surface and commonly forms in highly shaded areas and infrequently traveled roads, bridges or overpasses, according to AAA.

Tips for driving in wintry weather:

  • Stay home. Only go out if necessary. Even if you can drive well in bad weather, it’s better to avoid taking unnecessary risks by venturing out.
  • Drive slowly. Always adjust your speed down to account for lower traction when driving on snow or ice.
  • Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Apply the gas slowly to regain traction and avoid skids. Don’t try to get moving in a hurry and take time to slow down for a stoplight. Remember: It takes longer to slow down on icy roads.
  • Increase your following distance to five to six seconds. This increased margin of safety will provide the longer distance needed if you have to stop.
  • Know your brakes. Whether you have antilock brakes or not, 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.
  • Don’t stop if you can avoid it. There’s a big difference in the amount of inertia it takes to start moving from a full stop versus how much it takes to get moving while still rolling. If you can slow down enough to keep rolling until a traffic light changes, do it.
  • Don’t power up hills. Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads will just make your wheels spin. Try to get a little inertia going before you reach the hill and let that inertia carry you to the top. As you reach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed downhill slowly.
  • Don’t stop going up a hill. There’s nothing worse than trying to get moving up a hill on an icy road. Get some inertia going on a flat roadway before you take on the hill.

Rhode Island State Police reminds everyone to be ready for when winter weather hits.

It’s recommended to keep an emergency winter kit in your car that includes blankets, extra sweaters or sweatshirts and mittens or gloves.

Winter safety tips from RI State Police

More Winter Weather Resources:

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