It’s True – Bridges Do Freeze Faster


December 5, 2014 / Vehicle Accidents

If you ever doubted the veracity of those cautionary signs warning that bridges freeze before the roadway, just ask some of the folks on the roads around Indianapolis on December 2. Between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m., 243 accidents were reported, 42 of those being injury accidents, and officials noted that bridges and overpasses were particularly icy. Just 10 days earlier, ice on the I-275 bridge between Kentucky and Indiana caused the highway to be shut down in both directions after six cars and two trucks were involved in a crash there.

Wintery weather is going to be with us for a while, and the nearly 19,000 bridges in Indiana are going to be treacherous. Here are things we all need to keep in mind as we travel across them.

There are several reasons why bridges ice over before highways do:

  1. A bridge is exposed to air on all of its surfaces – on top, underneath and on its sides. Even in very cold weather, roads gain some insulation from their contact with the ground.
  2. Bridges are usually made of steel and concrete, both of which quickly conduct any heat within the structure to the surface, where it is lost to the air. Roads are made of asphalt, which does not conduct heat very well, thus retaining it within the material and lengthening the time before the road ices over.
  3. The effect of cold wind is somewhat reduced on roads by obstacles such as trees and buildings, but the elevation of most bridges puts them in the wind’s unobstructed path.

The term “black ice” refers to a thin layer of frozen water which contains very few air bubbles and thus is completely transparent — the asphalt simply looks wet. Drivers are often surprised to find that they have gone from a wet road approaching the bridge to a thin sheet of ice on the bridge itself, because the appearance has not changed.

Experienced drivers offer the following tips for dealing with icy roads and bridges:

  • Before you leave home, check the outside temperature to see if it has dropped below freezing and look for signs of frost on vehicles parked outside.
  • Try to see whether water is being thrown up by other cars on the road. If the road seems wet but there is no water spray, the water is most likely frozen.
  • Slow down, both in the rate of speed traveled and in the way you apply the brakes. Remember that stopping distance required on ice at 0°F is twice the amount required at 32°F.
  • Maintain a longer distance between your car and the one ahead. AAA recommends that the normal following distance for dry pavement (3 to 4 seconds) should be increased to 8 to 10 seconds on icy surfaces.
  • Keep your eyes focused high, not on the road right in front of your wheels, so you can observe how other vehicles are reacting.
  • Slow down before you get onto a bridge. Applying your brakes once you’re on the icy surface could cause a skid.
  • If possible, avoid driving beside another vehicle on an icy bridge or overpass so that you won’t be caught up in its slide in the event the driver loses control.
  • Make sure you’re familiar with the operation of your vehicle’s brakes. If the vehicle is equipped with ABS anti-lock brakes, you should not pump them.
  • If you begin to skid, don’t panic. Continue to look where you want to go and steer in that direction. When the front wheels grip the road again, steer gently in the desired direction of travel.

If you or your family member is injured in a winter car accident caused by a negligent driver, Stephenson Rife can help you obtain compensation for medical bills, rehabilitation, lost income and other expenses. Find out more about our services for victims of Indiana car crashes on our website, or give us a call at 1-317-825-5200 if you have been hurt on icy Indiana roads.

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