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Avoiding Black Ice This Winter

It happens every winter in central North Carolina: a hard freeze causes widespread instances of ice on roads and dozens— if not hundreds —of car accidents follow.

On December 9, 2017, the National Weather Service issued a black ice advisory to more than 10 North Carolina counties, including Wake (Raleigh), Durham, Orange (Chapel Hill), Franklin, Chatham and Warren counties. The next day, WRAL in Raleigh reported several morning-commute car crashes in the Triangle blamed on black ice.

Black ice forms when lingering moisture freezes on roads and parking lots freeze, creating slippery patches of pavement. The fact that the ice blends with the color of the pavement makes it harder for drivers to spot, leading to car, truck accidents and injuries caused by those accidents. To increase your chances of steering clear of this winter driving hazard, it’s important to understand the phenomenon of black ice.

How Does Black Ice Form?

Black ice forms a thin layer on the roadway, which adds to its invisibility. If you see it at all, it might just look like a wet patch of road. In most cases, black ice forms when melted and pooled snow or rain freezes during a cold night with no wind.

Because bridges and elevated highways are surrounded by air, water there tends to freeze more easily than on the ground. Black ice can form as a very thin covering despite air temperatures slightly above freezing if the surface of the road is at 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius) or lower.

Black ice is more likely to form where melted snow or rain runoff collects and does not evaporate in the day’s sun, such as under overpasses, in the shade of buildings and trees, and at the edges of roadways. Secondary and rural roads that get less traffic and have not been warmed by tire friction are more likely to retain a layer of moisture that can freeze overnight.

How to Spot Black Ice

As suggested above, black ice’s notoriety is due to the fact that it blends in with the road and is hard to recognize by sight. If you realize you’ve come upon black ice, it is likely because your car begins to slip, slide or skid. The surprise of hitting black ice is a big part of its danger, so it is important to learn to expect black ice and not make driving mistakes.

For black ice to form, the air or ground temperature has to be 32 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Keep an eye on forecasts and your car’s thermometer. Look for visible patches of ice or snowbanks and see whether they are melting.

A patch of black ice will look slightly darker and duller than surrounding pavement. In sunlight, look for glossy, wet-looking surfaces in or around parts of the road that are likely to ice. In early morning or at night, your headlights should reflect off of icy roads.

When the tires on cars ahead of you spray water, that is a good sign. If the spray suddenly stops, that vehicle has hit a dry or icy patch of road. If you see cars suddenly swerve for no apparent reason, black ice is a likely cause.

What To Do If You Hit Black Ice

As this North Carolina Department of Transportation advisory suggests, the safest way to avoid black ice is to stay off roads when icing is likely. If you must drive, NCDOT advises driving slowly and leaving plenty of space between vehicles. Signal lane changes and turns farther ahead of when you normally would.

Slowing down and allowing more distance between vehicles gives you the extra time to react to your car sliding or spinning because it has hit black ice or other slippery spots.

Maintain a steady speed in snowy or icy conditions, and brake, accelerate and turn gradually and smoothly.

If you hit black ice and start to lose control of your vehicle, do not panic. Don’t brake and don’t turn sharply. When your vehicle slides on ice, you have very little control. Doing something that causes a tire to grab a bit of exposed road can send you spinning.

When your car begins to skid, take your foot off the accelerator and steer your car in the direction you want it to go — as straight forward as possible and away from danger. If the back end of your vehicle starts to come around, turn toward it to counter the skid. Don’t accelerate until you are off the ice and feel your car’s tires grip the road.

When Black Ice Car Accidents Happen

Even if you understand the hazards of black ice and why it is necessary to slow down in icy conditions, other drivers may still be driving too fast for icy weather conditions and cause a traffic accident. Many car and truck crashes on ice occur because a driver fails to proceed with proper caution and remain alert for ice on the road. When winter weather advisories warn of the dangers of black ice, drivers in North Carolina should take precautions.

If you are injured in a car accident caused by ice or other inclement weather this winter, it is important to consider whether the other driver is to blame. Even if the accident occurred in hazardous weather conditions, another motorist may be legally liable.

An experienced North Carolina car accident attorney at Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A., can review the details of the crash and discuss your legal options for pursuing compensation through a personal injury claim. Such legal actions seek money for medical bills, vehicle damage, pain, suffering and more, and are most often settled without going to court for more than what insurance companies initially offer.

About the Author

Joseph R. Baznik
Attorney Joseph Baznik is an attorney at Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks P.A. who specializes in workers' compensation and personal injury. Joseph speak fluent both English and Spanish. He is licensed to practice law in the State of North Carolina and the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina.

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