AARP Driving Resource Center

Managing Challenging Road Conditions

Snow, sleet, ice and hail should be treated with great caution

There are many situations during which your driving visibility will be challenged or compromised, such as driving in the rain or fog or driving at night. A general rule of thumb is that if you do not have good visibility, safely pull over until visibility improves or avoid driving altogether. If you find you must drive during times of low visibility, you need to know how to deal with these challenging driving and weather conditions when you encounter them. The following strategies will help you to be a safe driver.

See also: How does your vision impact your driving?

Rain

As soon as it begins to rain, adjust your speed, disengage cruise control (if engaged) and increase your following distance to match the road conditions. Recognize that you are driving under poor conditions and adjust your driving behavior accordingly. Many drivers will not adjust their driving in hazardous conditions.

A good strategy for rain and other challenging conditions is to use your headlights. In some states, the use of headlights during certain challenging conditions may be required.

Many drivers do not understand the danger of wet roads. Roads become very slippery in the first few minutes of rain as the rain mixes with the oil and dirt on the road, creating a slippery surface. It takes about 30 minutes of steady rain to wash the oil and dirt off the road. Rain-slicked roads decrease your braking ability, so you go farther before stopping than you do on dry roads.

Another rain-related danger is hydroplaning. It can occur during heavy rainfall and happens when the tread “channels” on your tire cannot handle all the water between your tire and the road. The tires are forced to ride on top of the water on the road, which means they do not touch the road surface and thus have no traction. You can think of this as skidding forward. Hydroplaning occurs when you are driving too fast on roads covered with water.

When hydroplaning, the vehicle keeps moving in whatever direction it was moving originally. You will not be able to steer while the vehicle is hydroplaning. If you find yourself hydroplaning, take your foot off the gas pedal and slow down so that your tires can make contact with the road again.

Snow, Sleet, Ice and Hail

Snow, sleet, ice and hail are extremely treacherous and should be treated with great caution. Each storm is different and road conditions will change, making it difficult to drive in these conditions. The rule of thumb is to adjust your speed to match the current driving conditions and increase your following distance.

Next page: Tips for driving in snow, sleet, ice and hail. »

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