Hazardous Driving Conditions
Hazardous Driving Conditions
Driving your vehicle in hazardous conditions, such as snow, heavy rain, or thick fog, is a matter of preparation, practice, and―as always with driving―calm and caution. Traffic crashes are more common during severe weather conditions, and this is in part because many drivers do not make the necessary adjustments. And just because it is not a blizzard does not mean conditions are not hazardous. With the oils and exhaust that accumulate on highways, only a small amount of precipitation can cause the roadway to become slick, hindering your ability to control and stop the vehicle. And a fog bank or dust storm can suddenly reduce your visibility to zero.
Always be alert to driving conditions to stay safe. Although you can’t protect yourself against every danger you face, you can still minimize your risks. In this module, we will look at two primary factors: the environment, and your vehicle.
Driving in the Dark
Out of all of the hazardous road conditions, driving in darkness is likely the most common environmental hazard you will face. Driving at night is difficult. Colors are dimmer, there are a lot of distracting lights and you can’t easily notice differences in the road like speed bumps, potholes, and dips.
When driving in the dark, you need to make adjustments to compensate for your reduced visibility. We all know we need to turn on lights at night. Similarly, when driving between sunset and sunrise, Florida law requires headlights to be turned on. Since high beams allow you to see further (up to 450 feet ahead), you can drive a little faster when you have your high beams on. However, you need to be sensible when using your headlights so that you are not blinding other road users. If you are using high beams, switch over to low beams when you are within 500 feet of an oncoming vehicle or 300 feet of the one ahead of you.
Also, when driving at night, performing actions like slowing down and scanning the road continually will allow you to be more aware and alert of what is going on around you. In addition, it will give you more time to respond to road situations.
Keep in mind that on some rural roads, you have an increased chance of encountering an animal, just as you would in foggy conditions. Be mindful of this fact. In reduced visibility conditions, you will usually see your headlights reflecting off their eyes before you see the animal. Driving slower could prevent a devastating encounter between you and an animal.
Driving in Fog
Fog is another dangerous driving condition that you can encounter. Fog is especially common during the colder months of the year, so you should be well prepared for it. In addition to reducing visibility, fog gives drivers a sense of driving slower than they really are. Remember, if you feel like it is unsafe for you to drive, or if visibility is so bad that you can’t even see a car length, pull over on the side of the road and turn on your hazard lights. Open your trunk or hood to increase the visibility of your vehicle. If it is not safe to step outside, remain inside of your vehicle with your seatbelts fastened. Fog usually goes away after a period of time, so it’s better to be safe than sorry!
If you must drive in the fog, here are some tips for you:
- Use your low beam headlights, whether it is day or night. High beams will reflect light back at you in fog, making it even more difficult to see. Use fog lights if your vehicle has them.
- Make sure your windshield is clear and use your wipers and defrosters as needed to increase your visibility
- Always signal well in advance for turns and brake early when approaching a stop to help others see your vehicle
- Keep your windows and lights clean to improve visibility
- Keep an eye on your speedometer and reduce speed. Remember, speed limits are for ideal conditions only. When driving in the fog, only drive as fast as what your vision allows you to see ahead.
- Increase your following distance
- Watch for animals, sometimes they feel safer in foggy conditions
- Use the right edge of the road as your guide, do not use the center line. This will help you avoid being blinded or distracted by oncoming traffic.
Driving on Wet or Slippery Roads
Driving in the rain can be both scary and dangerous. But rain is not the only cause for wet or slippery roads. Anytime we get water on the road, it could become slippery, whether it’s from a broken water main, a garden sprinkler, or snow/ice. When driving on wet roads, there are more problems than most people consider.
Wet roads create a thin film between your tires and the asphalt, reducing traction between your tires and the road, making it very slippery and dangerous to drive on. During dry weather, oil builds up on roads; when it mixes with fresh rain, road conditions will become exceptionally slick. Also, when it rains, your perception is impaired by reduced visibility because it’s difficult to see through the rain. It often gets darker, too. Your windows may fog up as humidity and the temperatures change rapidly during a storm.
Some of these tips may seem like common sense advice but pay attention to them so you’re prepared the next time you’re driving under wet/slippery conditions.
- Slow Down – You have less friction on the road and therefore you have less traction. It’s easy to lose traction and hydroplane out of control.
- Increase Space Between Cars – With less traction, you need to give yourself more time to brake. If the car in front of you suddenly stops, you can’t expect to stop in the same amount of space if you were on a dry road. Add at least one second to your following distance, more if there is a downpour or the road is icy.
- Daytime Running Lights Are Not Headlights – Turn on your headlights so other cars can see you. Remember, visibility is reduced in front of you and behind you. Daytime Running Lights do not illuminate the rear of your car, making you much less visible than cars who turn on their headlights. Just use the low beams.
- Don’t Use Hazard Lights – Driving in the rain with your hazard lights blinking is a distraction to other drives. Besides, it’s illegal to use them while driving in Florida. Your low-beam headlights are sufficient to let others know where you are.
- Don’t Use Cruise Control – It may cause your engine to suddenly accelerate to maintain speed, which in turn may cause you to lose traction. Control your own speed in the rain.
- Drive in the Tracks of the Car In front of You – That car is leaving a path with less water, so take advantage of it. Put your wheels in its tracks.
- Check Your Tires – If you don’t have any tread, you can’t channel water out of the way and your car is more prone to hydroplane. If your vehicle hydroplanes, regain control as quickly as possible. Do not touch your brakes, as that may lead to a skid. Instead, gently ease your foot off the accelerator and maintain a firm grip on your steering wheel. To avoid hydroplaning, be prepared beforehand by keeping your tires properly inflated and ensuring that they have sufficient tread.
Driving in Snow or Ice
Although it rarely snows in Florida, you should still be prepared for snowy/icy conditions. This means making sure your vehicle is in good condition for driving in the cold winter months. You can do so by scheduling a maintenance check-up for your vehicle’s tires and tire pressure, battery, belts and hoses, radiator, oil, lights, brakes, exhaust system, heater/defroster, wipers and ignition system. Also, always keep your gas tank sufficient full (at least half a tank) when driving in the winter.
When it snows, it dramatically affects the braking distance of your vehicle; so slow down and increase your following distance to at least 10 seconds. If you ever get stuck in the snow, do not leave your car unless it is safe to do so. Other vehicles may also experience problems, so you are much safer if you remain inside of your vehicle.
Compared to rain and snow, icy roads are much more dangerous for driving because they are unexpected. Ice storms can create freezes that lead to the formation of black ice, which is a thin layer of ice formed on the road when water freeze. Black ice is hard to detect on roads and is often found on surfaces of bridges, intersections, and shaded areas. You will often find them during early morning or late-night hours. When driving on icy roads, your vehicle can easily skid so you must slow down and avoid sudden movements. If you start to skid, avoid using your brakes ; instead, slow down by easing off the gas. You should also turn your vehicle’s front tires in the direction of the skid.
Driving through Deep Water
Flooding can happen anytime due to rain, blocked drains, burst water mains, tides and burst river banks. The danger with floods is you won’t know the depth of the water, and you won’t know the condition of the road underneath the water. Never underestimate the dangers of flood water – as little as six inches of fast-moving flood water can knock you off your feet, and a depth of two feet will float most vehicles, including SUVs or 4 x 4s.
As with all driving emergencies, prevention is better than cure; in the case of flooding, this means watching the weather forecasts before you drive out, and if flooding is widespread, it is best to cancel your trip. If you are outside or away from your home, there are simple steps you can take to protect your life and property:
- Move to higher ground immediately and stay away from flood-prone areas.
- Do not allow children to lay near high water, storm drains or ditches.
- Flooded roads can have significant damage hidden by floodwaters, so never drive on a flooded road.
- Be especially cautious at night when it is harder to recognize flood dangers.
You need to slow down during wet weather to reduce a car’s chance of hydroplaning (which is when the tires rise up on a film of water). With as little as 1/12 inch of water on the road, tires have to displace a gallon of water per second to keep the rubber meeting the road. You should be responding to the amount of water on the roadway and drive as low as 35 mph. You would want to pass through flooded sections one car at a time, and never drive through the water against approaching vehicles. If your wheels start to lose grip partway through a flooded section it could be that the car is trying to float. To counter this, open a door and allow some water into the car, this will weigh it down, enabling the tires to grip again.
Remember, stay calm, and stay safe.
Safe Driving in Hurricanes
Driving in high wind conditions is tough, but it happens especially during hurricane season. High wind conditions are much different from traveling in rain or fog since your visibility isn’t typically impacted in the same way. In some cases, hurricanes can lift your vehicles upwards and carry it over a bridge’s barrier. And just like your car could take flight during heavy winds, you are likely to encounter flying debris. Flash flooding can occur after a hurricane has passed. It’s best not to drive during a hurricane.
If you must drive, here are some tips for driving in hurricanes:
- Leave early and notify others of your plans
- Keep both hands on the wheel in case you experience sudden gusts or unexpected movement from other drivers
- Don’t stop on bridges
- Use caution when avoiding any flying debris, and when the wind settles, be mindful that there will likely be building materials, trash, and tree branches on the roadways.
Whether you decide to drive through the hurricane or not, it is always a good idea to keep a disaster kit in your vehicle. Your disaster kit should contain the following:
- At least one gallon of water per person to last 3-7 days
- Non-perishable food enough for 3-7 days.
- Blankets, sleeping bags, pillows, cots or air mattresses, folding chairs or lawn chairs.
- Clothing, including sturdy shoes, rain gear, and appropriate seasonal clothing
- First aid kit and medicines
- Personal hygiene items
- Moisture wipes
- Flashlight with extra batteries
- Battery-operated radio
- Books, games, and toys to occupy your time
- Important documents (i.e. insurance papers, medical records, bank statements, etc.) in a waterproof container
- Basic tools (i.e. hammers, screwdrivers, etc.)
Poor Traction – Skidding
Despite your precautions, you may run into a situation where you lose traction and your car starts sliding. Here’s what you need to remember.
- Don’t Panic – Panic won’t help. It may even kill you. Keep calm and think.
- Turn into the Slide – If you turn away from the slide, your tires aren’t in a position to channel the water out of the way. Worse, you’ll likely flip your car over when your tires regain traction, so go with the force moving your car.
- Don’t Slam the Brakes – You’re sliding. The brakes stop the tires, which are sliding. That means you’ve actually reduced friction that could stop your slide.
- Hit the Gas – Moving tires create friction. By using applying acceleration, you’re increasing the odds of creating friction and recovering traction.
- Avoid the Grass – If you think the road is slick, wait until you try sliding on wet grass. Do your best to stay on the asphalt. It’s designed to increase friction.
- Pull Over After You Recover – Once you’ve recovered traction, find a safe place to pull safely over. Now you can freak out if you want. Compose yourself. Check your car for damage. Once you’re ready, find a safe opportunity to get back on the road and keep going.