The Dangers of Black Ice on Colorado Roadways

Jerry Bowman, Owner and Managing Attorney

Car Accidents
February 15, 2024
The Dangers of Black Ice on Colorado Roadways

Winter brings with it many unique winter conditions that can make driving more dangerous in Colorado. Most drivers recognize the importance of caution during the winter months. This includers scanning the roadway ahead to identify potential hazards. While snow-driven roads are an obvious driving hazard, another type of winter hazard, black ice, is particularly dangerous as it is undetectable to drivers.

According to the the United States Department of Transportation, each year, over 200,000 people are injured and another 2,000 killed in car accidents on snowy, slushy, and/or icy roadways. As a haven for winter enthusiasts and nature lovers, Colorado has witnessed an increase in motorists and a corresponding increase in car accidents throughout the state. The car accident lawyers at Bowman Law have prepared this article to discuss black ice in an effort to reduce the amount of accidents on Colorado roadways.

Black Ice Formation

Black ice forms on surfaces after a light freezing rain or after refreezing snow, water, or ice. Unlike regular ice, black ice forms as a very thin coat of transparent ice without creating bubbles. This is why black ice does not take on a shade of white, like regular ice. Moreover, because black ice is transparent, it matches the color of the surface it is on, often making roadways appear deceivingly dry. These conditions can provide a false sense of confidence for drivers.

Black ice often forms on parts of a roadway covered in the shade, such as tunnels and parts of the road surrounded by trees. It flourishes wherever the sun does not shine. Black ice can also form on bridges and overpasses because the surface and section underneath are exposed to frigid air, cooling the pavement’s temperature.

It is also important to note that not all black ice occurs naturally. If a road was not designed properly and/or lacked proper drainage, black ice can form. This is particularly true in construction zones and other low-lying areas. 

Dangerous Black Ice

Black ice car accidents are terrifying. Drivers can be spun out of control and slammed into other objects. Black ice is particularly dangerous because drivers cannot visually observe it. Adding to the issue, car brakes are ineffective on black ice because tires cannot gain traction. Moreover, the greater the area of black ice, the less control drivers will have. Many drivers instinctively slam on their brakes when they encounter black ice. Oftentimes unbeknownst to drivers, braking hard on black ice will cause a car to slip and slide over the roadway uncontrollably.

While dangerous for all drivers in Colorado, it is also important to note black ice is also dangerous for pedestrians because it is so difficult to see. Unlike snow or visibly icy surfaces, black ice blends with the color of the pavement. Its transparency is camouflaged against the surface so pedestrians may be surprised when they encounter a slippery surface.

Walking on black ice is similar to walking on a skating rink in socks. A misstep can lead to a loss of balance and potentially a painful fall. Pedestrians are not surrounded by steel like drivers are. When they fall on black ice, they suffer severe injuries, including sprains and fractures. Also, because black ice catches pedestrians off guard, victims may not have the ability to brace themselves.

Black ice is dangerous for everyone, but it is most dangerous for people with disabilities and/or reduced mobility, as well as the elderly. It is difficult for people to maintain balance on slick surfaces, but people who lack strength, coordination, and/or mobility are both more prone to slip and more likely to suffer more significant injuries.

Driving Over Black Ice

As explained above, because black ice is invisible to the naked eye, it can be difficult to avoid. Most Colorado drivers have encountered black ice while driving. The following tips can help drivers operate a motor vehicle safely on black ice:

  • Drive Slow: Speeding when there is a possibility for black ice will give drivers less control if they encounter a patch of black ice. Ideally, speeds should be kept under 45 miles per hour to be on the safe side, but it really depends on the amount of black ice on the road and the traction of tires.
  • Safe Distance: Stopping on black ice requires nearly ten times the distance than what is required on a dry road. Drivers should provide more distance with the vehicle in front of them.
  • Headlights: Drivers should use headlights to help identify shiny spots on the road that could be black ice.
  • Cruise Control: When there is a potential for black ice, driver should never activate cruise control.
  • 4 Wheel Drive: 4WD gives more traction to all wheels on the vehicle, which can be helpful on black ice.
  • Decelerate to Slow Down: Drivers should avoid slamming on their brakes to slow down. Instead, they should ease off the gas pedal slowly. This will help avoid a driver from spinning out. For drivers with antilock brakes, driver should pump while steering slowly out of the skid.
  • Be Patient: An important tip is remain patient and calm. Driving on black ice can be very stressful but it can be done. If you encounter black ice, you can pull off to the side of the road out of danger if you need to collect yourself.

Avoiding Black Ice

  • Drive Vigilantly: Before driving on Vail Pass, drivers should check the Colorado Department of Transportation website for contemporaneous updates regarding weather and roadways throughout Colorado. This will help drivers anticipate precipitation and freezing conditions. While on the road, drivers should look out for glossy, shiny patches. They should also take particular care around bridges and overpasses.
  • Observing Other Vehicles: Drivers should watch for sprays from other vehicles. When water sprays away from their tires, drivers should realize the road has not frozen yet. If, however, they see slick pavement but no spraying water, drivers should be prepared to encounter black ice.
  • Limit Driving: Of course, the best way to avoid slipping and sliding on black ice is to limit driving during inclement weather. If the weather turns unexpectedly bad while on the road, drivers can pull over into a rest area until the road is treated.
  • Check the Vehicle: If someone has to drive when it is snowing or freezing rain, they should clean all snow and debris from the windshield to keep an open view, check tires for tread, and travel at slower speeds.

Preceding Driving in Colorado

The Colorado Department of Transportation recommends drivers ensure the following are in safe operating condition:

  • Windshield Wiper Fluid: In cold climates, winter often brings heavy precipitation. Whether it is snow, sleet, or rain, a vehicle’s wipers have their work cut out for them trying to keep the windshield clear. Wiper fluid will help ensure drivers can see their surroundings. 
  • Winter Wiper Blades: Unlike normal summer blades, winter wipers have a protective layer made out of rubber that allows them to keep working, even if it is icy or snowy outside. 
  • Radiator/ Anti-Freeze: If water freezes, it cannot flow properly to cool the engine, leading to an engine overheating.
  • Tire Tread: In winter weather, all-season tires begin losing traction long before they appear worn-out. Tread depth is essential to disperse rainwater, slush, and snow. As tires wear, the ability to hold the road confidently fades. 
  • Tire Pressure: Drivers should consult their owner’s manual to determine the proper inflation for tires, which is higher in winter.
  • Working Headlights: With proper lighting, drivers can better see the road ahead as well as other vehicles nearby. Headlights are important for illuminating reflective road signs and seeing pedestrians who are crossing the road. They also help notify other motorists and pedestrians of a driver’s presence. 
  • Car Battery: As the temperature continues to fall during the winter months, the capacity of the vehicle’s batter also falls. It is important to check a vehicle’s car batteries because, as the temperature drops, engine oil thickens, causing the starter to work harder to start the engine.

In addition, drivers should consider keeping various items in the vehicle in case of emergency. Drivers should be prepared by creating a car survival kit for winter emergencies, including the following items: 

  • Scraper / Brush / Shovel: It is helpful to have a scraper, brush, or shovel to clear snow off a vehicle. 
  • Flashlight with Extra Batteries: A flashlight is a great tool to keep any time of year, however, it can be incredibly helpful in times of emergency, particularly during wintertime, blizzard, or snowy conditions that reduce a driver’s visibility. 
  • Blanket / Sleeping Bag: Recently, drivers throughout the United States were stranded for upwards of 13 hours on various interstates struck with significant winter conditions. A blanket could help people stay warm during these types of situations. 
  • Gallon of Water: Similar to the blanket, drivers who are stranded must stay hydrated. 
  • First Aid Kit: These could be handy in emergency situations requiring medical care. 
  • Tire Chains / Tow Strap: Snow chains help boost a vehicle’s traction in cold weather and tow straps might just save a driver if their vehicle gets stuck in a ditch. 
  • Jumper Cables: Jumper cables may save a driver time and stress in an emergency. 
  • Flares / Reflectors: These provide excellent warning signals to other motorists. 

Contact our Colorado Car Accident Lawyers

For more information about winter driving or if you were injured in a car accident, contact our Colorado car accident lawyers today at 720.863.6904 or email us for your free consultation. The legal team at Bowman Law handles a wide range of personal injury cases and will be standing by to take your call. We are open 24-hours for your convenience.