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What Is Black Ice and Why Is It So Dangerous?

November 21, 2023

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Originally published January 18, 2021.

There’s no time of year that’s more dangerous to drive or even walk than winter, especially in a state like Ohio that has frequent days and nights of freezing temperatures. And there’s no risk factor during winter more dangerous than black ice, which is a factor in countless winter auto and even pedestrian accidents. You’ve undoubtedly heard about black ice, but what exactly is it—and is it possible to reduce the risks it poses to you?

Black Ice Explained

Although it’s called “black” ice, this dangerous hazard is just normal ice that forms on asphalt. But because it’s a thin layer of transparent ice, it blends in with the color of the dark asphalt below, giving it a black appearance when viewed up close.

Black ice most commonly forms when it rains and temperatures are at or below freezing. It can also form when snow melts, leaving large puddles of water, and then temperatures drop below freezing again before the water evaporates.

Another potential cause of black ice is simply humidity or high levels of moisture in the air. This moisture can collect on the road and sidewalks and eventually freeze, putting both drivers and pedestrians at risk of serious accidents and injuries.

Where Is Black Ice Most Common?

Black ice can form on any roadway and walkway, but it happens fastest on roads that are elevated or that see frequent/constant shade. You may have seen signs warning that bridges ice during the winter. That’s because bridges are exposed to airflow from underneath, which causes ice to form even when temperatures haven’t quite reached 32 degrees F or below.

Shady areas and areas of high elevation can also lead to the formation of black ice. That’s because temperatures can be lower in those areas than surrounding areas, which means any accumulation of water can quickly freeze and cause ice to form.

Why Is Black Ice So Dangerous to Drivers?

Black ice is dangerous because drivers can’t see it, their tires can’t grip it, and their brakes can’t work properly on it. When drivers can’t see it, they can’t prepare themselves.

When their tires can’t find traction on it, drivers can immediately lose control of their vehicles. And the larger the patch of black ice, the less control they have. Black ice can cause vehicles to spin 180 or even 360 degrees or more, which is an extreme risk factor for a crash.

Finally, when their brakes can’t work properly on it, they can’t stop or slow down. Many drivers instinctively mash their brakes when they hit black ice and feel the telltale slipping and sliding, but doing so can be a mistake. Braking hard on black ice can cause vehicles to slide, resulting in even less control.

What Should You Do if You Drive Over Black Ice?

Because black ice is practically invisible from the vantage point of the driver’s seat, it can be difficult to avoid. If you hit black ice, keep these tips in mind:

  • Take your foot off the gas immediately—Accelerating will only further decrease your control over your vehicle. Taking your foot off the gas allows your vehicle to begin decelerating naturally.
  • Don’t over-brake—Resist the temptation to brake hard or at all. Even anti-lock brakes are less effective on ice, and braking too hard can cause you to enter a tailspin.
  • Keep your steering wheel straight—Don’t try to “turn out of” black ice or its induced loss of control. Instead, focus on traveling in a straight line while coasting away from the ice and any potential hazards.

Tips for Preparing Your Vehicle for the Possibility of Slick Roads

Although black ice is extremely slick, driving over it doesn’t always result in a loss of control. The difference between a moment of reduced traction and a total loss of control often comes down to vehicle preparation:

  • Ensure your tires are properly inflated with the recommended PSI. Under or overinflated tires don’t perform the way they’re supposed to, and that can often result in less traction.
  • Check your tire tread and the type of tires you have on your vehicle. If their tread is worn, or if they are high-performance summer tires, replace them with winter tires.
  • Replace broken or ineffective wipers and ensure your wiper fluid is always topped off. Your wipers are your biggest defense against falling snow, and wiper fluid can help clear the mixture of snow, dirt, and freezing rain that can accumulate when driving during winter.

Black Ice is Dangerous for Pedestrians, Too

For pedestrians, black ice is especially dangerous because it’s so difficult to see. Unlike snow or visibly icy surfaces, black ice blends seamlessly with the pavement, making it nearly impossible to spot with the naked eye. Its transparency camouflages it against the asphalt, which means it can catch pedestrians by surprise when they step onto it and aren’t expecting a slippery surface.

Walking on black ice is akin to walking on a skating rink without skates—a single misstep can lead to a loss of balance and a serious and painful fall. Pedestrians may experience severe injuries from black ice-related falls, from sprains and fractures to more serious trauma. And because black ice catches so many people off guard, injuries are often more severe, as victims are unable to catch or brace themselves as they fall.

Black ice can be dangerous for everyone, but it’s most dangerous for people of advanced age and people with disabilities/reduced mobility. It’s difficult enough for people to maintain their balance when they unexpectedly step onto black ice, but people who lack strength, coordination, and mobility are both more likely to fall and more likely to suffer injuries when they do.

How Property Owners and Managers Can Prevent Black Ice from Forming on Walkways

Although Ohio property owners typically aren’t held liable for injuries caused by icy sidewalks and walkways, it’s important for them to keep walkways on their properties free from hazards to protect themselves, their families, and their guests.

This is even more true for commercial properties, such grocery stores, banks, gyms, restaurants, shopping centers, and many other businesses. These businesses have a responsibility to ensure their walkways and parking lots are safe for customers to walk on.

If you’re a property or business owner, you should:

  • Ensure you have adequate drainage and grading. Black ice is less likely to form when water can’t pool on your walkways.
  • Shovel or blow snow and loose ice promptly off walkways after it begins to accumulate.
  • Treat walkways before winter weather arrives. Rock salt (sodium chloride), calcium chloride, sand, and anti-ice chemical sprays are all effective at preventing black ice from forming on hard surfaces.
  • Repair broken and chipped areas. When holes form in sidewalks and walkways, they create opportunities for water to accumulate and turn into black ice.

We Help Victims Hurt by Negligent Winter Drivers

Given Ohio’s often harsh winters, you would expect that most drivers and pedestrians here would be prepared for ice and snow on roadways and walkways. But as you know, that’s not the case.

Unfortunately, many drivers aren’t just unprepared, they also hit the road and immediately engage in dangerous and negligent behaviors such as speeding, driving while distracted, or driving while impaired.

If you or someone you love is injured by a negligent driver this winter, we want to help you get compensation. You’re facing expensive medical bills and lost wages, and it’s our goal to get you the money you’re owed. Contact the Ohio auto accident lawyers at Nurenberg, Paris, Heller & McCarthy today for a free consultation.

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