If you have ever walked on, or driven a car across ice, you know how slippery and dangerous it can be. But a condition on roads called black ice can be even more dangerous because it is almost impossible to see. Black ice forms without air bubbles and can look just like the pavement you are driving on. Therefore, it is important to know when and where black ice may form on roads so drivers can be prepared for this often-invisible hazard.


When Does Black Ice Form?

Black ice most commonly forms at night or in the early morning when temperatures are at their lowest.


Where Does Black Ice Form?

Black ice most commonly forms on parts of a road that don’t get much sunshine, like a road under trees or in a tunnel. It also forms more frequently on roads that have less traffic. Black ice will also form easily on bridges, overpasses, and the road underneath overpasses. This is because the air will freeze faster on these road surfaces. 


What Are the Signs of Black Ice

Black ice is often invisible and impossible to see on the road. But sometimes it can be seen in certain lighting conditions during dawn, daylight, or dusk. If the road mostly looks dull black, but you see a patch ahead that looks shinier in the light, this may be black ice. If you see cars swerve for no reason on the road during the day or at night, this is a sign of black ice.


What To Do If You Encounter Black Ice 

The most important thing to do if you feel yourself sliding on black ice is to remain calm. Immediately take your foot completely off the accelerator but do not touch the brakes, which will cause you to skid.  Try to keep the steering wheel straight, but if you feel the back of the car skidding, very gently turn the steering wheel in the same direction you are skidding. If you turn the steering wheel in the opposite direction while you are skidding or turn the steering wheel too much, your car may spin in a circle and out of control. If you are in a car with manual gears, you can also try to shift in a lower gear, which will give you more control.


Black ice is often in invisible and often (but not always) forms in patches. If you hit black ice and can see areas of traction like snow or spots with sand, you can try to move toward them to regain control. If you end up going off the road, try to steer toward an area that will cause the least amount of damage.


After an encounter with black ice, stay calm and if possible, consider waiting for safer conditions like the temperature going above freezing or waiting for crews sanding or salting the roads. If you must continue driving, drive slowly and use your hazard lights to warn other drivers you are not driving at normal speed because of the danger.


Other General Precautions While Driving in Potential Black Ice Conditions

  • If possible, avoid driving unless necessary during freezing weather conditions
  • Travel slowly. This will give you more control if you encounter black ice or other hazardous conditions
  • Give cars into front of you lots of room
  • Keep your windshield and all windows clear while driving
  • Use headlights in daytime to help you see any possible shine that might be black ice