What Drivers Need to Know About Black Ice Accidents

Pennsylvanians are very familiar with black ice, one of the most dangerous and unforeseeable types of road conditions. In a single day in Pittsburgh during wintery conditions, it is not uncommon for police to be called to at least half a dozen weather-related and black ice accidents in the area.

Each year, black ice and icy roads contribute to over 150,000 crashes, causing an average of 38,770 injuries and 559 deaths, reports the Federal Highway Administration (FHA). When a car hits black ice, the driver typically loses control and falls mercy to her vehicle until her car passes over it.

When you are involved in a black ice-related car accident, you may be entitled to compensation from your or another party’s insurer. Poor road and weather conditions can complicate matters, though. For help determining liability and your legal options, call a car accident lawyer at Cordisco & Saile, LLC in Pennsylvania for free consultation: 215-642-2335.

What exactly is black ice and when does it form?

Black ice is a thin coating of ice that forms on pavement when rain falls and freezes. The ice is not actually black, of course. The term comes from the ice’s ability to camouflage with the black asphalt.

Black ice forms when the frozen ground freezes precipitation on impact. Black ice tends to form when the temperatures are the lowest, such as at dawn and at night. However, black ice can still develop even if the air temperatures are above freezing, if the ground is cold enough. Melted sleet and snow can also refreeze and form black ice.

When a car hits black ice and loses traction, it may:

  • Run off the road;
  • Collide with stationary objects like guardrails;
  • Hit the edge of the road and rollover;
  • Collide with another vehicle; or
  • Cause a multi-car pile-up.

How do I avoid a black ice accident?

There are several things you can do to reduce your risk of a black ice accident:

  1. Check your car’s thermometer. If it is close to freezing, be extra cautious. Note, however, that digital car thermometers may have inaccurate readings if the sensors are on the bumper or another location where the heat from the car may affect the reading. Do not let the thermometer be your only gauge for icy roads.
  2. During daylight hours, look around at the roads before getting in your car. “If the pavement is dry but you are seeing spots of pavement that look dark and glossy, that is probably going to be black ice,” explains Vice President and National Director of AARP Driver Safety Julie Lee.
  3. Before driving at night, check a news source for any dangerous weather or road conditions. You may want to check the National Weather Service for “special weather statement” updates in your region. You can also register at 511PAConnect.com for road closure updates.
  4. If conditions are favorable for black ice, avoid using cruise control.
  5. Check your tire tread for wear regularly. Less traction increases your risk of slipping on icy roads. Replace tires as necessary.
  6. Try to avoid driving in areas where there is a lot of shade or where freezing tends to occur: on or under bridges and overpasses, or where the roadway or driveway is covered by trees. Lack of sunlight and cold, wet weather is the perfect recipe for black ice.
  7. Slow down and keep extra distance between your car and other cars to allow for increased stopping times if your car happens to slip on ice.
  8. If the weather conditions are too bad, wait until it clears up before going out, if possible.

If you find yourself slipping on black ice, remain calm. Take the following three measures:

  1. Keep your hands on the wheel.
  2. Do not pump the brakes. How you brake depends on whether you have anti-lock brakes. If you have anti-lock brakes, apply them and do not take your foot off the brake. If you do not have anti-lock brakes, use the “heel-to-toe” method. Press the brake pedal with your toes until the wheels lock; release the brake and press down again. 
  3. Take your foot off the gas pedal.
  4. Steer in the direction of the skid.

Who is liable for a black ice accident?

Auto insurers assign fault for every accident claim they receive. They take all factors into consideration, including drivers’ actions, the weather, and road conditions. If you were in a black ice accident, you may think the accident was the road’s fault, but insurers do not see it that way.

Insurers take the position that drivers must be in control of their vehicles at all times. Drivers are expected to drive in accordance with the weather and road conditions.

In cold, wet weather favorable for black ice, drivers must slow their speed, even to a crawl if necessary, to avoid a collision. If the conditions are particularly bad, insurers expect they would pull off the road until the conditions improve.

If your car slipped on black ice, causing an accident, the insurance company will likely assign fault to you. In most instances, the insurer will apportion fault to you because you were “driving too fast for conditions.” This seems unfair, but it is standard insurance protocol.

How do I begin a claim for a black ice accident in Pennsylvania?

Because black ice accidents are complex, your best bet is to discuss your case with a car accident lawyer at Cordisco & Saile, LLC to review your options. We can look over your insurance policy and the specifics of your accident, and determine what types of damages you may be able to recover.

If you carry the minimum auto insurance, your liability insurance will pay for others’ property damage and other damages related to bodily injuries. You can also recover your own losses with your medical benefits coverage and collision coverage (if you carry it).

If your injuries are severe or you have full tort, and the insurer assigned another party with fault, then you may have the right to sue the other driver for additional economic and pain and suffering damages.

For legal information about black ice accidents or for help with a claim, call our firm at 215-642-2335 and request a free case evaluation today.