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“Black Ice” and highway vehicle accidents – January 02, 2011

Icy conditions this past month throughout the state of Missouri have resulted in multiple automobile and truck accidents on our roads and highways. It has been estimated that one quarter of all automobile, truck and other motor vehicle accidents in the United States have adverse weather conditions as a contributing factor. Additionally, up to 70% of all weather related deaths during the winter months are attributed to vehicle accidents.

Perhaps the most dangerous driving condition during inclement weather occurs during periods of “black ice.” Black ice is thin, clear ice that has frozen on dark roadways. Because the ice is hard to see and often appears to be simply wet, moist or even dry roadway, black ice creates a hidden trap for an expecting motorist.  Adding to the danger is that black ice is oftentimes interlaced with less dangerous “wet” road, making it difficult to determine where the dangerous road lies.

Be especially careful around bridges, overpasses and areas surrounded by trees.  Black ice forms first on these areas because the surface areas of these areas can drop more rapidly than surrounding roadway. Be conscious of “Bridge May Be Icy” signs warning you of this danger when the air temperature drops below 40 degrees. Just because the air temperature is above freezing, does not necessarily mean that the roadway is not cold enough to freeze, for example when there is warm air suddenly after a prolonged cold spell. Clearly, the danger is greatest when temperatures are near and below freezing, and moisture exists either from rain, mist, melting snow or ice as well as dew or vehicle exhaust condensation.

Some tips to reduce the dangers of “Black Ice:”

Be aware of the conditions in which it is most likely to occur, as mentioned above.

Maintain good tread on your tires.

Engage 4 wheel drive if your car is so equipped. If you have a vehicle that has “all-wheel” drive, this will also give you a significant advantage.

Slow down if you have any doubt as to whether the pavement is wet or icy.

Do not tailgate and leave plenty of car spacing should you be in a position where you could lose traction while stopping.  Anticipate stoplights as well.

Keep your windshield clean for increased visibility.

Always wear your seatbelt, of course.

Should you find yourself sliding on “black ice:”

Maintain your composure.

Do not slam on your brakes, but take your foot off the accelerator, braking slowly.

Make smooth steering movements, if the car is skidding, turn the wheel in the direction you want the car to go.

If your car has antilock brakes, let the antilock brakes do their job – don’t pump the brakes as you would in older cars.

Finally, always turn off your cruise control during periods where slick roads may be an issue.

 

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