Fall driving can be unpredictable because of weather changes, the end of daylight saving time and the start of school. These guidelines can help keep you, and others, safe while on the road.
Watch out for kids. Early in the school year, youngsters often haven't developed the habit of looking for moving traffic before they cross the road leaving a school bus. It's illegal to motor past a stopped bus in most places. And buses are beginning to use cameras to catch people who do drive by when the "Stop" arms are extended and the lights are flashing. Older kids driving to and from school are a danger, and in danger, too. "Teen crashes spike in September as [kids] head back to school, and happen more often during hours when school begins and lets out," the National Safety Council reports.
Beware of darkness. It comes earlier anyway as the year ages, and that's accelerated when clocks most places in the U.S. shift back to standard time in early November. While just 25 percent of our driving is at night, 50 percent of traffic deaths occur then, according to the National Safety Council. Also, a 50-year-old driver might need twice as much light to see as well as a 30-year-old, NSC notes. And at 60 years and older, we generally see road signs less clearly, we have more trouble judging speed and distance, and glare begins to bother us more, according to the American Optometric Association.
Be critter conscious. You're 3.5 times more likely to hit an animal — especially a deer — in November than at any other time of the year, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety cautions. Deer are likely to be mating in November and that's why you see more of them, IIHS notes. About 1 of every 100 drivers will hit a deer during the driver's life behind the wheel, says animal-rights group PETA.
Consider dampness a threat. We think of big puddles as dangerous, and they are, because the front wheels can float, called hydroplaning, and you lose steering. But even before the puddles accumulate, rain — especially if it's the first in a while — can pool on the oil, grime and dust that are on all roads and make the pavement slick. It also can mix with fallen leaves that are abundant in the fall and create a slippery surface. Slowing your speed helps, and, if you're on a busy road, you can drive in the tracks of the cars ahead of you, where the road is driest.
Tend your tires. If they have sufficient tread, they perform better on rainy surfaces, and they stop faster and steer better on dry ones. Also, proper tire pressure helps keep you rolling smoothly and safely. When the weather cools as fall heads toward winter, tires typically lose pressure and can cause your car to handle poorly. If the tires are extremely low, that can contribute to a blowout. Correct pressure will be noted on a decal pasted on the driver's side door jamb or the door itself. The pressure that's noted on the tire itself is the maximum for that tire, and that could be wrong for your car.
Cope with glare. The blinding distraction of sun glare waxes as summer wanes. Sounds wrong, but it's logical, because the sun moves closer to the horizon — which keeps it pointed straight into your eyes, and makes it more likely to reflect at low angles off other cars, buildings and windows. Have your sunglasses handy. Don't look directly into the lights of oncoming traffic when you drive at night. And keep your windshield clear so dirt streaks don't contribute to the glare.
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