How To Safely Drive On Black Ice and Avoid Accidents

Driving cautiously, looking for glossy patches, and steering into the spin are the best ways to handle black ice.

Lindsay VanSomeren
Lindsay VanSomeren
  • 8 years in insurance and personal finance writing

  • Former data scientist for U.S. Geological Survey

Lindsay is a freelance personal finance writer currently pursuing her Series 65 license. She enjoys helping readers learn money management skills that improve their lives.

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Ashley Cox
Edited byAshley Cox
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Ashley CoxSenior Managing Editor
  • 7+ years in content creation and management

  • 5+ years in insurance and personal finance content

Ashley is a seasoned personal finance editor who’s produced a variety of digital content, including insurance, credit cards, mortgages, and consumer lending products.

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Updated April 18, 2024

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Wintertime driving can be dangerous, and it’s an unfortunate reality for roughly 70% of the country. Every year, about 117,000 people are injured and more than 1,300 die in accidents on snowy and icy roads.[1]

Black ice is one of the most dangerous conditions to drive on because it’s difficult to see until it’s too late. These glossy patches of ice blend in with the surrounding pavement and cause your tires to lose traction and spin.

Being prepared is the easiest way to avoid losing control while driving on black ice.

What is black ice?

Black ice is a very thin layer of ice that coats road surfaces. The melting and refreezing of water on pavement creates the black ice. The ice is clear, and it freezes without bubbles to create glossy, black sheets. This makes black ice difficult to see until you’re very close to it.[2]

Black ice forms from a few different sources, such as melting snow, sleet, rain, or even from condensation or fog.

It forms when temperatures drop below freezing, usually at night and early in the morning, before the sun warms up the roadway surface.[3]

Black ice can also form where it might be cooler than surrounding roadways, like on top of bridges and overpasses, on less-traveled roads, and on shaded roadways.

These 10 Car Models have the Worst Drivers in Bad Weather

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How to avoid black ice

The easiest way to avoid black ice is to know when and where it forms and then avoid those places when you suspect it might be a problem.

Black ice typically forms at night and early morning when temperatures are low. It’s most commonly found on shady roads, bridges, overpasses, and under tunnels and overpasses.

Avoid driving in the early morning or at night — if you’re able — and stick to well-traveled main roads and highways.

If you can’t avoid driving when the chance of black ice is likely, keep your eyes peeled for the signs. Turn your headlights on and scan for a telltale icy glare from the road surface. Pay especially close attention when you’re driving over parts of the road that might be colder, like shaded areas and bridges.[4]

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*Quotes generated for Insurify users within the last 10 days. Last updated on April 18, 2024

Rates shown are real-time Insurify user quotes from 100+ insurance companies and Quadrant Information Services data. Insurify’s algorithm excludes anomalous quotes and anonymizes personal details, then displays refined quotes by price, date, and insurer popularity up to 10 days ago from April 18, 2024. Actual quotes may vary based on the policy buyer’s unique driver profile.

7 tips for driving on black ice

Avoiding black ice isn’t always an option, so it’s important to be prepared if you hit a patch while driving. Here are some tips for staying safe:

  1. Practice driving on ice when it’s safe. Don’t wait until you’re already skidding to learn what to do. Go to an empty lot on a snowy, icy day to practice driving and braking. Learn how your car handles these conditions, what a skid feels like, and how to get out of it.

  2. Consider your tires. Make sure your tires have plenty of traction going into winter. Bald tires slip much more easily. If you live in an area with snow and ice all winter long, consider purchasing studded or winter tires.

  3. Drive slower. When conditions are bad, drive with extra caution. If you slide out of control, or fishtail, it’ll be easier to regain control if you’re driving slowly.

  4. Drive in higher-traction areas. If you see the glare from black ice, try steering gently onto areas with more traction, such as snow, sand, or gravel.

  5. Take your foot off the accelerator. When your foot is on the gas pedal, your tires spin, which can make it harder to regain control. Take your foot off the gas so your tires stop spinning as much. This will help you regain traction.

  6. Steer into the skid. Steering in the opposite direction from the skid can make it worse. Instead, turn the steering wheel slowly in the same direction as the skid. For example, if your back end skids to the left, gently turn your wheel left too.

  7. Brake appropriately. Don’t slam on the brakes at the first sign of a skid. Only use the brakes as a last resort if you’re going to hit something or go off the roadway. If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS), press the brake pedal down firmly and hold it. If you don’t have ABS, quickly pump your brakes.[5]

What to do if you lose control on black ice

Aim for safer areas if you lose control while driving, such as a soft snowbank or an open median.

If you do crash, put on your hazard lights and call emergency services. Be careful if you’re on a busy roadway. You can easily be involved in a pileup or be hit by another car, especially in low-visibility conditions.

You can still be held liable for any resulting damages, even if black ice caused you to crash. Legally speaking, you’re responsible for driving your vehicle safely regardless of the conditions — including on black ice.

What car insurance covers you after an accident on black ice?

If you’re the at-fault driver in an accident on black ice, a few different types of insurance policies could come into play, depending on the state you live in and the details of the accident:

  • illustration card https://a.storyblok.com/f/162273/x/abffe6238f/financial-protection.svg

    Bodily injury liability coverage

    Bodily injury liability coverage pays for injuries of the other driver in an at-fault accident.

  • illustration card https://a.storyblok.com/f/162273/x/169fdfde11/liability-coverage.svg

    Property damage liability coverage

    Property damage liability coverage pays for the damage you cause to someone else’s vehicle or property.

  • illustration card https://a.storyblok.com/f/162273/x/4c9753bdbe/medical-payments.svg

    Medical payments coverage

    Medical payments coverage helps pay for the cost of your own medical bills if you or your passengers are injured.

  • illustration card https://a.storyblok.com/f/162273/x/7b43b14514/damage-from-aircraft.svg

    Collision coverage

    Collision coverage helps pay to fix your vehicle if you hit other cars, trees, or buildings.

If someone skids on black ice and hits you, their insurance is responsible for paying any property damage.

In no-fault states, your insurer is responsible for paying out any bodily injury claims. Drivers in no-fault states must purchase personal injury protection and should also get underinsured motorist coverage to protect themselves in the event of an accident.

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Driving on black ice FAQs

It’s important to be prepared in icy conditions. If you have any more questions about black ice, read below.

  • Is it hard to drive on black ice?

    Yes, it can be extremely difficult to drive on black ice because you can easily lose control of your vehicle. Plus, it’s hard, and sometimes impossible, to see black ice, so you can’t avoid it as easily as other road hazards.

  • What should you do if there’s black ice on the road?

    If there’s black ice, drive slowly and cautiously. If you start to slide, take your foot off the pedal, steer into the skid, and pump your brakes or use your ABS.

  • How do you avoid sliding on black ice?

    The best advice for what to do when driving on black ice is simple — don’t. Avoid driving on icy road conditions if you can. If you must drive, make sure your tires are in good shape. Drive slowly and keep your eyes peeled for black ice as you drive. If you do spot any, try to steer gently onto adjacent areas with a bit more traction if available, such as snow- or gravel-covered surfaces.

  • Should you use four-wheel drive on black ice?

    Does four-wheel drive help on black ice? Not really. Four-wheel drive helps you get going by sending power to all four tires, but it doesn’t suddenly help you gain traction if you’re already sliding. But if you do slide into a snowbank, it might be able to help you get out better than a vehicle with two-wheel drive.

  • What does driving on black ice feel like?

    You won’t always know if you’re driving over a patch of black ice. Since black ice patches are short, it’s possible to glide over them unaware. But if you do start sliding, it’ll feel just like that — you’re expecting to travel one way, but suddenly your car is actually going another.

  • How do you keep a steep driveway safe in snowy climates?

    Being proactive is the best way to keep your steep driveway safe. The most effective ways of preventing an icy driveway include consistent shoveling during snowfall, sanding or salting your driveway, and using de-icer. In a pinch, you can also use cat litter on icy areas.

    If you’re concerned about your car sliding down your driveway, parking at the bottom is the best solution. If your climate warrants it, having studded or winter tires will also help with traction on an icy driveway.

Sources

  1. FHWA Road Weather Management. "Snow & Ice."
  2. USDA. "How to Drive on Black Ice."
  3. Weather.gov. "Ice Storms."
  4. AccuWeather. "Black ice: How to spot this winter driving danger."
  5. Western Slope Driving Institute. "6 Tips for Driving on Black Ice."
Lindsay VanSomeren
Lindsay VanSomeren

Lindsay VanSomeren is a freelance personal finance writer living in Suquamish, WA. Her work has appeared with FICO, Credit Karma, The Balance, and more. She enjoys helping people learn how to manage their money better so they can live the life they want.

Ashley Cox
Edited byAshley CoxSenior Managing Editor
Headshot of Managing Editor Ashley Cox
Ashley CoxSenior Managing Editor
  • 7+ years in content creation and management

  • 5+ years in insurance and personal finance content

Ashley is a seasoned personal finance editor who’s produced a variety of digital content, including insurance, credit cards, mortgages, and consumer lending products.

Featured in

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