It’s black ice season in much of the country — time to remind fleet drivers of one of the deadliest of all winter driving hazards.
What some drivers forget is that black ice can form even when it’s not raining or snowing, and this road hazard is often difficult to spot. A thin layer of ice can form from melting snow running across the road or even condensation from overnight dew. (To view a video about black ice road hazards, click on the photo or link below the headline.)
The Maine Occupational Safety and Health Administration offers these tips for dealing with black ice. You may want to pass this advice along to fleet drivers.
Here's what to watch out for:
- Pavement that looks dark, wet or like new asphalt
- Low-lying areas that may have standing water or runoff from nearby melting snow banks or puddles
- Bridges and underpasses
- Any road areas that are shaded from the sun
- Any time the temperature is below 40 degrees F
- Vehicles that have slid off the road under any of the above conditions.
Here are some precautions drivers can take:
- Remember, not all cars respond the same to icy, slippery roads. For that reason, knowing how to handle your vehicle and how it responds in various weather conditions is important. AAA recommends that motorists practice slow-speed maneuvers on an empty snow- or ice-covered parking lot. You should also look through your owner’s manual and familiarize yourself with your vehicle's braking system and other features.
- Wear safety belts every time you get into a vehicle. Be sure all children and passengers are secured in proper restraints, too.
- Slow down. Posted speed limits are for ideal travel conditions. Driving at reduced speeds is the best precautionary measure against any misfortune while driving on slippery roads. Allow more time to travel. Resist the temptation to drive faster. Allow extra time — not only for the reduced speeds but for potential problems on the road.
- When roads are wet or look wet, watch the vehicle in front of you. If it isn’t leaving tracks or its wheels are not “throwing” water, the road is probably covered in black ice and not just wet.
- Look well ahead to compensate for the greater distances required when driving on slippery surfaces, and focus your attention as far ahead as possible — at least 20 to 30 seconds.
- Drive with your headlights on. This will turn on your taillights and allow others to see you almost twice as far away. Being visible will give others time to avoid hitting you.
- Be especially cautious when driving your car into shaded areas, and slow your vehicle down when you encounter such areas.
- Avoid driving while fatigued.
- Maintain more space. Increase your margin of safety. Don't tailgate. Maintain a minimum of eight to 10 seconds in following distance.
- Anticipate problems. On slick surfaces, any abrupt maneuver will increase the probability of losing vehicle control. Skids can best be avoided by anticipating lane changes, turns and curves. Slow down in advance and make smooth, precise movements of the steering wheel.
- Use chains in deep snow and on icy surfaces. Check state and local laws before installing chains, and drive at slower speeds to avoid damage to the tires and vehicle.
- Don’t use cruise control. Winter driving requires you to be in full control.
- Steer with smooth and precise movements. Changing lanes too quickly and jerky steering while braking or accelerating can cause skidding.
Here are some braking tips in case you find yourself on black ice:
- Braking with anti-lock brakes — Apply the brakes. Don’t remove your foot from the brake pedal or pump the brakes. The ABS should keep the brakes from locking while allowing you to steer as you continue to slow the vehicle down.
- Braking without anti-lock brakes — Use the heel-and-toe method. Keep your heel on the floor and use your toes to press the brake pedal firmly, just short of locking up the wheels. If the wheels lock, release the pressure on the pedal, and press again in the same way. Repeat this until you come to a full stop.
In both cases, if your vehicle begins to skid, remember to steer in the direction of the skid. You may also find it advantageous to put your transmission in neutral while trying to stop on black ice.