With winter upon us, the risk of accidents increases on the roadways. There are numerous weather hazards during winter, including snow, sleet, freezing rain, which don’t only reduce visibility, but also can cause slick roadways. It’s the invisible hidden danger that lurks on the roadways. That danger is black ice.
According to The Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning, in accordance with The Michigan State Police, over 25,000 accidents occurred during winter weather in 2010, 53 of which were fatal.
How does this compare to summer driving?
“The majority of crashes that occur during the winter are not as severe as dry times because the speeds are typically down a little bit, so we actually see more fatalities in the summer than what we do in the winter” states Sgt. Matt Rogers of the Michigan State Police.
But what is black ice? Black ice is ice that forms on roadways that is nearly translucent. There are a few reasons why black ice forms. Black ice can form on either nights with precipitation or nights when there is high humidity and temperatures below freezing. Snow melt refreezes on the roadway as the temperature drops, which causes black ice to form. When a vehicle drives over black ice, the chance of skidding increases. It looks exactly like wet pavement, and you may not know it’s there until you actually encounter it. Bridges are especially prone to black ice.
While air flow only affects to tops of roadways, air can flow across all surfaces of a bridge. This allows the bridge to drop in temperature quicker, making it easier and faster for ice to form.
Another reason the area around bridges accumulate black ice than other areas because of snow and ice melt that drips from the top of bridges, allowing the roadway underneath to accrue water. Because these areas are also poorly lit, it is harder for drivers to distinguish between wet pavement and black ice.
Skidding on ice can be a scary situation. Sgt Rogers gave me some techniques to help control your vehicle if you are out of control.
“The first thing you need to do is not panic. The second thing is to stay off the brake. When the car is sliding sideways, do you have traction with the roadway? No, you don’t. The next thing is get your eyes up and way down the road at one point. If I am looking down the road, my body is going to naturally drive to that location because your hands follow what your eyes are doing.”
It is crucial to watch the road and other drivers at all times to minimize the chance for an accident.
“You always have to be paying attention to other drivers out there. Until we make eye contact, and I see them and they see me, I’m kind of on guard a little bit. Are they eating a sandwich? Are they talking on their cell phone? That throws a red flag because I know that driver is distracted so I am going to be paying a little more attention to that person.”
According to a new federal mandate, all 2012 vehicles must be equipped with stability control to aid anti-lock brake systems during loss of control. Sgt Rogers gave me some insight on this as well.
“It basically does skid control for you. If the car starts to go out of control, that system basically takes over and if you’re asking for some acceleration out of the car, it’s not going to give it to you. It will also add brake where necessary to straighten that car back out and get you back under control.”
Sgt. Rogers gave me the opportunity to get behind the wheel and test my driving abilities. I found out first hand that it is not a cake walk.
“Getting your eyes down the road, your body senses what the car is doing. So, when it starts to move this way to this way, I sense that really early on because my eyes are way down the road. If I’m looking at the hood of my car, I’m not going to sense that. “
“The second you sense that back end going one way or the other, my eyes get locked into one point down the road, and then it's hand over hand steering in the direction that the car is going. Whatever you put in, you have to take out.”
My first attempts of recovering from a skid were unsuccessful, as I didn’t focus on a point in front of me, as Sgt. Rogers advised.
After nearly a dozen times, I finally got the hang of recovering from a skid.
By learning correct techniques and paying attention to surroundings, the chance of accidents will continue to drop.