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Sach D. Oliver
Sach D. Oliver
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Watch Out For Black Ice

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This last week, we had black ice in Northwest Arkansas. There were so many wrecks on the interstate that I felt I should at least blog on this scary and invisible danger.

Black ice is a thin coating of glazed ice on a surface, often a roadway. While not truly black, it is transparent, allowing the usually-black asphalt roadway to be seen through it, hence the term. It is unusually slick compared to other forms of roadway ice because it contains relatively little entrapped air in the form of bubbles. Black ice is transparent and thus very difficult to see compared to snow or frozen slush. For this reason it is especially hazardous when driving or walking because it is both hard to see and unexpectedly slick.

Bridges and overpasses can be especially dangerous. Black ice forms first on bridges and overpasses because air can circulate both above and below the surface of the elevated roadway, causing the pavement temperature to drop more rapidly. This is often indicated with "Bridge May Be Icy" warning signs. This Thanksgiving holiday weekend, there were about 40 vehicle wrecks due to ice forming on the bridges and over passes on Interstate I-540. Luckily, only minor injuries were reported considering the high number of wrecks.

We suggest the following things to prepare and look for when driving in winter weather:

1. If ice forms on your windshield wipers or on your side view mirrors, then it may also be forming on the roadway.

2. Be aware of shady places on the roadway where ice easily forms.

3. Four wheel drive is not effective on ice. Front wheel drive vehicles handle better than rear wheel drive on slippery ice because the weight of the engine is on the drive wheels, which helps to improve traction.

4. Cars and light trucks can put sand or kitty litter bags in the trunk or back to balance the weight.

5. During weather warning of ice and snow; Do not use your cruise control because if you hit ice it will cause your car to speed up.

6. Listen to the radio for weather information when the temperature drops.

7. Slow down significantly before crossing bridges or overpasses during icy weather.

8. Put a first aid kit, warm blanket, a flashlight and extra batteries, water, and granola bars in your vehicle in case of emergency.

Anti-lock braking systems (ABS) offer significant advantages on slick roads, if used correctly. To operate ABS effectively, motorists should apply steady pressure to the brake pedal during the entire stop. ABS will automatically pump the brakes, if necessary, to keep the wheels from locking. Never manually pump ABS brakes yourself. Apply only steady pressure continuously until you come to a complete stop.

If you don’t have ABS, you should gently apply pumping pressure to your brakes during slippery conditions. Do not apply steady pressure to your brakes. Standing on your brakes will only cause wheel lock, and may result in your car spinning out of control.

How to handle skids:

FRONT WHEEL DRIVE: It is possible to steer out of a skid! Once you feel your car begin to skid, slowly remove your foot from the accelerator, until you feel your wheels regain traction control. (Do not attempt to brake!) As your vehicle’s tires grab the road, slowly turn the steering wheel in the direction you want your front wheels to go.

REAR WHEEL DRIVE: When you begin to spin, remove your foot from the gas pedal. Slowly steer in the direction you want the car to go. If you are still skidding out of control, counter-steer until your vehicle is pointing in the right direction. Never apply steady pressure to the brakes.

With winter Storms, the most important thing to remember in the ice is to stay home or at least drive carefully if you do decide to go out. A good place to start your trip is the Arkansas Highway Department. Their site contains details about which roads are safe to travel and which roads are the worst. The Highway Department also has a phone number so you can access road information without a computer (if you don’t have power for example). You can call 501-569-2374 to get a recorded message containing the same information found on the web.

I would like to thank Leona Crowe, our legal assistant, for helping me research this important topic.