Black ice, which resembles water but is actually ice on the road, can take you by surprise. When you hit black ice, driving can quickly turn treacherous. According to Icy Road Safety, from 2008 to 2010 there was an average of 467 deaths per year due to black ice, providing a staggering reminder that a road covered in black ice can be more dangerous than one blanketed in snow.

What is black ice?

Black ice is ice that forms when temperatures reach freezing and there is rain or drizzle falling onto asphalt or pavement. The water freezes as soon as it hits the road, creating a solid, smooth ice glaze on the pavement. On asphalt, black ice appears black, but on other types of surfaces, like concrete, it can look gray.

The dangers of black ice

Black ice is perilous because you usually don’t detect it until your wheels make contact. Such icy roads are extremely slippery and can prevent your tires from holding any traction. This can result in sliding and loss of control.

Black ice is most common in low-lying areas where water pools, as well as on overpasses and bridges. Bridges are susceptible, as the icy rain hits these surfaces first. Black ice is also common in shady spots, including tunnels where there may be water seepage.

What to do if you encounter black ice

If you find your car fishtailing or sliding in black ice, reduce your speed immediately. This may enable you to drive through the black ice without sliding or swerving. If sliding does occur, turn your wheels in the direction that the car’s rear is moving. If you try to steer against the slide, you will spin. Keeping your eyes in the direction that you are turning can also help keep you safely on the road.

Know your braking system

The type of brake system your car has will also affect how you brake if you hit black ice. When braking with anti-lock brakes (ABS), apply the brakes without removing your foot or pumping. Your car’s ABS will generally prevent the brakes from locking.

Those vehicles without anti-lock brakes require that you press down on the brakes but release pressure if the wheels lock. Repeat until the vehicle stops. Downshifting with either type of braking system also helps you reduce speed.

Practice for black ice conditions

Not all cars respond the same to black ice, so it pays to know how your car handles in a wide variety of weather conditions. In order to discover this, it’s a good idea to try driving and stopping your car in icy and snowy conditions. You can do this in a parking lot. By practicing, you’ll learn how your car reacts when faced with dangerous conditions.

Use caution and discretion when practicing. Avoid testing your car where there are nearby vehicles, buildings or people.

It can be scary to encounter black ice on the road, but having these tips in mind for handling black ice improves your odds of having a safe driving experience this winter.