The recent cold mornings and threats of snow have meant dangerous conditions for motorists. The worst danger is unseen, ‘Black Ice!’
The name sounds threatening enough but getting caught out puts the wind up the most hardened boy racer and the resulting slide is rarely recoverable. At best you could end up with an embarrassing and expensive slam into the kerb, at worst, well let’s not go there!
At least with snow or slush everyone knows it is there and that’s what makes ‘black ice’ so lethal. Many factors combine to wreak havoc to drivers: The ice so called because it doesn’t reflect light and appears to be just like a patch of melt water. Usually forming overnight meaning it’s discovered by early morning commuters, when we’re admittedly not at our most alert. It also remains in patches, for example, in the shade. The surrounding higher air temperature can lull motorists into a false sense of security, presuming any ice will have melted.
So how can we best avoid an unwanted and expensive run in with this plague to the motorist? Awareness is the key initially; be prepared for ‘black ice’ even if the outside temperature gauge in your car doesn’t show a snow flake or give you a warning chime to let you know. I would say up to 5 degrees Celsius a risk still exists. It may be 5 degrees or more on your drive with the sun shining on your car or even near your house but on the road with cold grass verges either side it certainly won’t be! The gauges are also sometime inaccurate and on many cars the sensors are mounted in the front bumper, which has the hot radiator just behind it, meaning a completely false reading especially at slow speeds!
As soon as you are on the road and before you hit the traffic carry out a test; when it’s completely safe to do so and at a very low speed, I apply the brake quite hard. This will do two things, give you an idea of the grip available and if your car has ABS, give you an idea of the feeling when that activates. That’s only a test of that particular bit of road surface but it may just highlight how slippy it is and how that will massively affect your stopping distance. Also, if you skid a little, it will give you an idea of how crazy the ABS will go whilst trying to safely bring yourself to a halt! There will be noise, vibration and ‘push back’ through the brake pedal. All quite disconcerting if you’ve never experienced it before!
If despite taking care, the worst happens and you do find yourself ‘Dancing on Ice’ remember not to panic and hammer some big inputs into the controls. Pushing for all your worth on the middle pedal or frantically turning the steering wheel maybe a natural reaction but it will not help your situation. Ease off the brakes, be gentle with the steering and prepare for some grip to kick in. If you can allow the wheels to roughly carry on rotating at the same speed and maintain direction the chances of regaining traction are greatly improved. Also, as is often the case with ‘black ice’, it may be just a small patch and when you’ve passed it the tyres will grip again.
Keep aware, keep plenty of distance, keep safe and keep your money in your pocket!