Black Ice 2


DATE: 11/01/2011


REFERENCE: CDL Manual; section 2.6.2 – Matching Speed to the Road Surface


How the Incident Occurred

A tractor trailer driver was on the return leg of his route to a customer location. Driving in adverse nighttime weather conditions which included fog and near freezing temperatures, the driver crested a hill with a turn that sloped to the inside and toward the oncoming lane. As he entered the turn he felt the truck "get away from him." The truck crossed into the other lane and collided with an oncoming vehicle.

Injury/Damage Information

  • The driver in the other vehicle was killed.
  • The tractor/trailer driver received serious injuries, including a compound break to his arm and trauma to his head.
  • The other vehicle was totaled.
  • Damage to tractor included front bumper, headlight housing, grille, steer tire, axle and suspension.
  • No cargo damage.

Causative factors

Root cause analysis determined that the ultimate cause of this "Black Ice" collision was driving too fast for conditions. Contributing factors included driver inexperience and lack of situational awareness.


  • The five axle tractor/van trailer combination was partially loaded; load remained stable.
  • Brakes, tires, lights, steering, wipers and all major components functioning properly.
  • All vehicle inspections were current.
  • Seatbelts were functioning but not in use by either driver.


  • Adverse driving conditions; temperatures falling from 40 to 35 degrees in hour preceding collision; road surface was damp from fog and light mist.
  • Conspicuity was partially obscured due to fog and nighttime driving and hill crest.
  • "Slippery When Wet" and 35 mph Speed Limit (trucks greater that 10,000 lbs.) singage preceded the left-hand curve
  • Small gulley/ditch culvert running underneath highway at base of left hand curve.


  • Six months with this company after attending a 2-day company orientation.
  • 13th trip on this specific route for this company.
  • Had been on duty for 13 hours (62 in previous 7 days) including 9.5 hours driving.
  • Prior commercial driving experience included; 2 years Class B, 1 year Class A (four-axle).
  • MVR showed two moving convictions (speeding) in previous 36 months (4 in previous 42).
  • Most recent adverse weather safety training driver attended was while driving class B vehicle with prior employer two years previous.

Remedial Measures

Black ice develops on road surfaces when temperatures are near the freezing mark. Snow melts and freezes again, and rain or light mist falls and freezes on the pavement. Frost can also create unexpected icy conditions. Black ice is very dangerous because it is almost invisible. It is a thin layer of ice that makes the road surface appear to be wet. Driving at normal speeds seems safe. Road conditions and locations where black ice may be present include:

  • Temperatures just above or below freezing.
  • A dark or dull appearance on the pavement.
  • Sections of the road that are shaded by trees or other obstructions, such as a hill or mountain.
  • These include areas where the morning sunlight has not yet reached.
  • Bridges, overpasses and underpasses.
  • Damp areas where the road follows a lakeshore or riverbank.
  • Places where you have encountered black ice in the past.
  • Pay attention to radio and TV road reports and avoid traveling on roads with known or suspected black ice on them.
  • If are driving and suspect that black ice may be present, slow down and use extreme caution.
  • Feel the backside of west coast mirrors; if you feel ice, then ice is also forming on the roadway – slow down!
  • Avoid braking, accelerating, passing or turning sharply.
  • If you or other drivers are not able to maintain control, get off the road as soon as you safely can.

In addition, remember these additional winter driving safety tips:

  • Vehicle handling and stability varies with length, height, weight, cargo and axle configuration. Learn and understand the unique handling characteristics of the specific equipment you will be operating.
  • Rehearse winter driving in an empty parking lot. Make your vehicle slide and skid, and practice correcting these maneuvers.
  • Learn to stop and turn without losing control on snow and ice.
  • Allow extra time to stop and turn. Slow down well in advance of traffic lights.
  • Leave extra space between your vehicle and other traffic.
  • If you have to stop because of unsafe conditions, pull well off the road and away from traffic lanes.

Black ice can take you completely by surprise if you are not prepared.

Avoid black ice accidents by learning to read the road conditions.