Although New Yorkers are generally accustomed to driving in ice and snow, Mother Nature has produced particularly treacherous driving conditions this winter. The latest blast of polar temperatures turned the Major Deegan Expressway into a sheet of ice on Jan. 23.
Officials blamed icy roads for the 10-vehicle pileup, which stopped traffic for 90 minutes. Initial reports said that two people suffered injuries that were not life-threatening. The ice was "black ice," so it was difficult for drivers to spot.
Black ice is nearly undetectable to the human eye. It is also chameleon-like, taking on the color of the surface on which it forms.
Black ice can appear wet, but it is generally invisible. It is created from a mixture of water and car exhaust and forms mostly without air bubbles, which means it appears clear. Salt is not as effective on ice when temperatures dip below the freezing point, and even drivers with four-wheel-drive vehicles are vulnerable to this invisible hazard.
The science behind black ice might be interesting, but the dangers it poses are not. As the drivers on the Major Deegan Expressway learned, black ice can trip up even motorists who are experienced in navigating wintry conditions. Most people involved in this particular crash were fortunate to avoid injury, but many other drivers are not so lucky.
In many weather-related car accidents, careless drivers exacerbate dangerous driving conditions by engaging in reckless maneuvers and excessive speed. People involved in crashes should not rule out that negligence could have been a factor just because bad weather contributed to the accident. An accident reconstruction may show that the careless conduct of other drivers played role in the crash.
Source: ABC 7, "10-car crash stalls Major Deegan, blamed on ice," Eyewitness News, Jan. 23, 2014