“Black-Tar Snakes” Cause Motorcycle Accidents Nationwide

-Posted On September 23, 2010 In Motorcycle Accidents-

Those long black lines on roads that seal cracks in the surface mean very little to car drivers, but they can be lethal for motorcyclists and have been known to cause numerous motorcycle accidents. Known as “black-tar snakes,” the lines become slippery if not applied efficiently, especially in wet or hot weather conditions. While the following cases are not California cases, black-tar snakes are dangerous all around the country.

What Are Black-Tar Snakes?

Over time, roadway surfaces can age and develop cracks due to rain, cold weather, heat, and other natural events. These cracks, if left unattended, can damage the entire roadbed and lead to dangerous road conditions. To prevent this, highway crews fill the broken areas with asphalt sealer, a tar-based material.

Asphalt sealer effectively seals these cracks and postpones the need for extensive and expensive construction work. When this material is applied, the cracks become long, winding lines of black tar that look very similar to snakes. This is where the name “black-tar snakes” comes from. 

The Dangers of Black-Tar Snakes

On September 1st, a Minnesota police official was killed in a motorcycle crash, and it is suspected that the accident was caused by a “black-tar snake.” The intersection at which he crashed reportedly has numerous slippery, sealed cracks, but it is still officially undecided what caused the accident. Sadly, that officer was not wearing a protective helmet and did not survive his injuries.

Another Minnesota officer was wearing both a helmet and motorcycle jacket when he slipped and crashed in July – which is a very hot month in the Midwest state. While riding on his motorcycle one hot day, the officer skidded on a tar snake because the sealant had become slippery due to the extreme heat. Fortunately, because he was wearing protective gear, the officer lived to warn the public and other riders that, “The stuff is really deadly. Especially when you hit it and you don’t expect it.”

According to a spokesman for the American Motorcyclist Association, the above stories about tar-snake accidents fit into what experts note as risky driving on the sealed cracks. Riding on black-tar snakes is most dangerous when a driver is slowing down or accelerating. One of the officers above had been slowing down at the time of his accident, and the other was speeding up.

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation says that road maintenance crews should be more careful in the way that they mend the roads and should use a “flush-full, strike-off” system that means scraping the excess tar from the surface. A pavement engineer disagrees that there is much needed change in the filling system and says that crews generally are following the best practices when repairing cracks.

A representative from the Department of Public Safety, who himself is a motorcyclist, agrees that black-tar snakes pose a great risk to riders. He adds that the best safety measure is avoidance: “We all try to avoid roads that have those things.” Take note of areas with numerous tar snakes, especially when the roads are wet or very hot, and find another route or place to go for a joyride.

Black-Tar Snakes Affect Motorcyclists More Than Motorists

As illustrated by the stories above, black-tar snakes can be incredibly dangerous for motorcyclists. Black-tar snakes have a different texture than the surrounding asphalt, which can cause motorcycle tires to lose traction and skid on the road. They can also create a bumpy and uneven surface that can affect the motorcycle’s suspension and lead to a serious collision. 

Tar snakes are also affected by weather conditions. In hot weather, they can become soft and more susceptible to deformation, while in wet weather, they become slicker. These conditions can greatly increase the risk of skidding for motorcyclists.

For passenger cars and trucks, however, black-tar snakes have little effect on their tires or suspension systems. These vehicles can easily pass over asphalt sealant without losing control or being involved in an accident. 

However, foreign objects like nails, pieces of metal, and screws can become stuck in the tar. These objects, if left unchecked, can cause tire blowouts for all types of vehicles, including cars, motorcycles, and trucks.

Tips to Stay Safe Around Black-Tar Snakes

Black-tar snakes can be a major hazard for motorcyclists. However, there are ways to safely maneuver through them. When riding in an area where snakes may be present, keep the following tips in mind:

  • When riding a motorcycle, always scan the road ahead of you for any black-tar snakes. If you begin to approach a patch of highway that may have snakes, slow down.
  • Ride over black-tar snakes at a 90-degree angle, if possible. These cracks are the most dangerous when they are ridden over vertically.
  • When riding over black-tar snakes, keep a loose grip on your handlebars. Instead, let your tires find their own traction. Keeping a tight grip can increase the risk of an accident.
  • Avoid riding a motorcycle in wet weather. If you do have to ride in the rain, take extra caution; the black-tar snakes can become even slicker and more dangerous in these conditions.

What to Do If You Are Injured in a Tar Snake Accident

If you or a loved one have been injured in a motorcycle accident and believe that black-tar snakes are the cause, you deserve justice. In certain cases, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit or insurance claim and recover compensation for the harm that you suffered. However, cases involving black-tar snakes can be highly complex, and in these situations, you need an attorney on your side.

A San Francisco motorcycle accident lawyer can investigate your case, determine whether you are eligible for legal action, and help you file the appropriate claim against the appropriate party. Contact an attorney as soon as possible after your accident to discuss your accident and identify your optimal path to recovery. 


Twincities.com: Street-crack sealer called deadly for motorcyclists (9/19/2010)

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