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Tips for When You Encounter Black Ice While Driving

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jan1homespunweb.jpgBy Brian McDonald

RISMEDIA, Jan. 1, 2009-(MCT)-What makes black ice so dangerous is that it’s much harder to detect in advance than thicker, milky-looking ice sheets; black ice is moisture that has frozen clear. A thin layer of it doesn’t produce obvious discoloration and may await you on a road that looks essentially dry.

Black ice thrives in areas where there isn’t much direct sunlight, like tree-lined residential roads or tunnels. Bridges, overpasses and the roadway beneath overpasses are also notoriously treacherous. If pavement looks a little darker or more reflective than usual, you may be in for some black ice ahead.

If you encounter black ice on a roadway, resist that strong reflexive desire to act fast to regain control. The best general rule: do nothing. If you’re currently braking when you hit the ice, stop braking; if you’re accelerating, lift your foot completely; keep your steering wheel fixed in its current position. Never brake or press the gas when you’re on black ice. Instead, try to coast over it in your desired direction, because patches typically don’t stretch longer than 20 feet.

If your tail begins to drift in a certain direction, gently turn your wheel in the same direction that your car is drifting. Struggling against the drift by steering in the opposite direction will cause spin-outs.

Of course, our goal as drivers is to avoid these dangerous situations. One of the most important preventative measures during freezing or near-freezing conditions is to drive slower. Don’t tailgate, and try to think a few steps ahead in your commute, anticipating traffic stops and predictable congestion rather than slamming on the brakes. Slow and steady, folks.

It doesn’t matter how slow you drive if your windshield is opaque. Never leave home without good visibility through it. Keeping your headlights on may also help you visualize the faint sheen of black ice.

And don’t think all tires are created equal … if your tread is worn down and you’ve been meaning to get your tires replaces, don’t wait until the end of winter –do it now! Good tires are essential in freezing conditions as well as all other driving conditions. If you’re unsure about your tire tread, pull a quarter out of your pocket and place it in a tire groove with Washington’s head pointing toward the tire. If the tread rises to the top of Washington’s head or obscures his head a bit, you’ve got good tread.

Snow tires are available everywhere in winter months, and for added protection you can contact your local police department to see if studded tires are legal in your area.

If you think 4-wheel drive gives you carte blanche to ignore all precautions, think again. You’ve got an extra, helpful tool at your disposal, but you can still easily slide out of control. Be careful, like everybody else.

Brian McDonald is a senior editor at www.HowToDoThings.com. For related “How-to” articles, go to www.howtodothings.com/automotive.

© 2008, How To Do Things Inc. (www.HowToDoThings.com)
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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