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The dead of winter is upon us in the Northeast, and while we may have had a slightly drier winter than expected, it’s imperative to be aware of what freezing temperatures can bring. The days of January into February are on record as being the coldest months in Massachusetts, so extra precaution and planning is needed before hitting the roads. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, there have been more than 2,000 road deaths every winter, due to storms, bad weather, and poor road conditions. One of the most dangerous aspects of winter driving is encountering black ice.

Picture1Black ice, or sometimes referred to as flash ice, can be extremely dangerous and will even catch the most experienced driver off guard. This type of ice is usually clear and transparent and can form on many surfaces, including roadways, sidewalks, and driveways. Even with road crews salting the roads, black ice can still form on highways as well, due to the heat of tires on the asphalt mixing with freezing conditions. The first way to prevent an accident on black ice is to keep an eye on the weather and use good judgment on whether or not to go out on the roads.

If you must travel during freezing conditions, be extremely cautious, especially on bridges, overpasses, and shady roads, which are more prone to having black ice. The most common time of day to see black ice is in the early mornings or late evenings. However, during these extremely cold months, you should be aware of black ice at all times. Black ice is almost invisible to the human eye, so when temperatures are low, be mindful of your surroundings and slow down.

AAA Northeast offers some tips on winter driving and what to do when encountering black ice:

  • Let your car warm up to ensure it will run smoothly during the freezing temperatures.
  • Improve visibility by clearing off any ice or snow from your vehicle before hitting the road.
  • Check your tires: use a quarter to measure the tread on your tires. If the tread depth isn’t up to Washington’s head, your tires should be replaced.
  • Give yourself a head start in the winter months, by allowing extra time, so that you can drive safely and slowly to your destination. Be aware of the space between you and the car in front of you. It takes a lot more time and space to stop successfully when driving in rough conditions.
  • Never use cruise control during winter driving, especially when there is a strong chance of ice and slippery conditions.
  • Avoid unnecessarily changing lanes while driving, which increases your chances of hitting a patch of ice between lanes that could cause you to lose control of the vehicle.
  • Avoid braking when encountering black ice. If you approach a patch of ice, try to brake in advance and control the skid by easing off the accelerator and steering in the direction you want the front of the car to go.
  • Keep a winter weather kit in your car, containing an ice scraper, blanket, flashlight with extra batteries, bag of kitty litter or salt, shovel and charged cell phone, as well as reflective triangles or flares, cloth or paper towels and jumper cables.

Even the safest of drivers can find themselves in need of assistance, which is why the MassDOT Highway Assistance Program sponsored by MAPFRE Insurance is here to help with fixing minor mechanical problems, flat tires, fuel shortages, and emergency situations. The Highway Assistance Program drivers monitor some of the state’s busiest highways and turnpikes around Metro Boston, Worcester, Springfield and Cape Cod (seasonal). The Highway Assistance Patrol covers 13 major state roadways and interstates, the Emergency Service Patrol covers the Mass Pike (I-90) from New York to Boston and the Incident Response Operators cover the Metropolitan Highway System and tunnels. The Highway Assistance Patrol is in service Monday–Friday between the hours of 6 a.m.–10 a.m. and 3 p.m.–7 p.m. During holidays, there are extended routes in heavy traffic areas. On I-90, and in Boston’s tunnel system, assistance is provided 24 hours per day, 7 days a week.

Written By
Patrick McDonald, CPCU
CEO, Northeast Region                               
MAPFRE Insurance

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