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Reducing the risks of black ice during the winter driving season

Although the month of November was uncharacteristically warm in the Chicago metropolitan area, first few weeks of December have been anything but balmy. Passengers in automobiles may appreciate the serene beauty that accompanies that the first blanketing of snow on trees and fields; however, Chicago drivers realize that the white accumulation also limits tire traction. With even colder temperatures settling into the region, the road conditions become ripe for accidents. Long-time Chicago residents recognize they should not expect clear roads in the months of December, January and February.

If you have been following our blog, however, you are familiar with the safety tips we've posted to help you prepare for driving during the winter holiday season. In addition to prepping for a winter drive by maintaining full tanks of gasoline and windshield wiper fluid, there are other instructions you can follow while you are on the road to help you maintain control over your vehicle when dealing with another of winter's road hazards: black ice.

Whereas the risks of snow and sleet can be reduced because the driver is aware of their presence, black ice can be treacherous because it is virtually invisible. In many cases, drivers aren't aware that black ice has formed on the road until they attempt to brake, their tires slipping over the surface.

Knowing where and when black ice forms and the steps to take should they encounter this dangerous glaze, drivers can limit the ice's impact on their cars.

1. Location

As bridges and overpasses cool faster than roads, black ice can freeze in these locations first. When the temperatures head south in the winter, drivers should recognize that a wet-looking patch on a bridge's surface is more likely to be ice than water run-off. In these conditions, it's best to slow down when approaching a bridge and provide ample space between cars to allow for reduced braking capabilities.

2. Time

Black ice typically forms in the early morning and evening hours before the sun is able to warm the road's surface. As daylight hours are limited in the winter months, those commuting to work or school in the morning and evening will not have the light of day to aid in navigation. A tell-tale surface is not as easily recognized by moonlight. For those who speed while traveling to and from work, these drivers need to exercise caution during the winter months.

3. Safety measures

A common reaction to sliding is to stomp on the brakes. When drivers take this approach in a slide through black ice; however, the ice's surface prevents the tire from gripping. Remaining calm throughout this situation can be the best way to handle it. Those who know why their car is sliding know how to safely slow their car.

Young drivers, who develop a bank of knowledge regarding winter hazards, have a better chance of accessing this information when their tires aren't able to gain traction than drivers who don't plan for a skid. When the car begins to slide on the icy surface, drivers should reduce their pressure on the accelerator and avoid making quick movements with the steering wheel. Jamming on the brakes and jerking the steering wheel can cause the back end of the car to fishtail, causing the car to spin out of control.

During the winter months, Chicagoland residents may not be able to avoid hazardous driving conditions. As with most circumstances in life, however, preparing for the risk can help to reduce it.

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