The time black ice on an NJ highway nearly killed me
New Jersey 101.5’s Chief Meteorologist Dan Zarrow is warning us all about some icing of roadways that could occur Friday especially in the northern part of the state. This is nothing to take lightly.
Just a quick cautionary tale. I can’t remember if it was 1996 or 1997. But it was a winter day and I was on 195 heading toward the radio station. I was doing exactly what you should do when reports are saying that icing conditions are present. I was doing between 40 and 45 miles an hour, well below the speed limit. I remember cars passing by being annoyed at my caution.
With no warning, the highway turned to nearly invisible black ice and even though I was being so careful the light-weight pickup truck I was driving, a little Ford Ranger, couldn’t hang on to any traction.
My back end started fishtailing out to the right and I turned into it as you’re supposed to in order to correct the slide. No gas no brakes. To this day it was one of the freakiest feelings I ever had driving because the car had absolutely zero response. The ice was in complete control and my steering did absolutely nothing.
It spun completely around 180° and the most unbelievable part of the entire incident is that my truck somehow righted itself…but backwards. In other words, I’m still sliding on the ice in the correct direction but doing it backwards. I remember about half a mile behind me (but I’m looking right at it being that I’m turned around) is an oncoming tractor-trailer.
I felt I was never going to get this car under control in this disorienting reverse slide so after another second or two I kind of held my breath and moved my steering wheel again just trying to get it to spin back around. Now that worked to spin me back facing the way that I was going but yet there was still no traction to speak of and I could not get the car out of its icy fishtailing.
I knew the truck was coming up behind me but was surely slowing his speed seeing the ice that I had hit. But a new threat was coming up fast on my right. As I was still out of control along the highway there was an entrance ramp appearing on my right with several cars that were going to be merging around me when I have no true control.
“Do you hear that? That’s a fatal just down this same highway. So consider yourself very lucky.”
Judging everyone’s speed I knew there was going to be a multiple-vehicle crash if I couldn’t stop my truck. Luckily there was this small concrete divider between the right lane of the highway and the entrance ramp. It honestly wasn’t much taller than a curb but I figured it would do the trick if I could just hit it.
So I sort of half-steered and allowed the slide I was already in to let my truck drift hard right into this thing. I managed to strike it and no other vehicles. The impact was hard enough that it literally broke my back axle right in half. But it brought me to a stop as I caught my breath.
Within seconds a New Jersey state trooper came along and found me there, which was lucky because this was before the age of cell phones. He let me sit in the back of his cruiser while he called for a tow truck and I told him everything that happened.
He told me it sounded like I did everything that I could and to not feel so bad about it. He added that they were getting dozens of accident reports all at once from all over the area due to black ice. Moments later a call code came over his radio about some elderly couple in an accident. He said, “Do you hear that? That’s a fatal just down this same highway. So consider yourself very lucky.”
That was my single scariest moment driving. And I have to tell you that feeling of being at the wheel of a vehicle when there’s absolutely no control stayed with me for a while. I would have phantom sensations of no traction even on a clear day.
All this to say if this ice storm does hit please take it seriously. Don’t drive if you don’t need to, and slow down if you do.
Opinions expressed in the post above are those of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Jeff Deminski only.
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