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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.

Tips for Driving in Snow, Sleet, Ice and Hail

  • Bridges freeze before roads. This occurs because a bridge is in contact with freezing air from all sides. A road is in contact only with the air above it.
  • Be cautious — you never know if there is a sheet of ice underneath the snow.
  • Drive in the tire tracks of other vehicles as there will be more traction in these areas.
  • Be careful when changing lanes. The area between lanes may have a buildup of crunchy ice, which should be avoided. If you must change lanes, do so gradually while holding the steering wheel firmly.
  • All snow is different, so testing is necessary. When you first get on the road, test your brakes to gauge how they react to the conditions.
  • Beware of “black ice.” It is ice that forms with almost no air bubbles, which makes the ice transparent and appears the same color as the road surface. On asphalt or dark-colored roads, this ice appears black. Black ice is extremely dangerous because it is so difficult to see. The only way you will know if you have hit a patch of black ice is that you will start sliding. Take your foot off the gas pedal and do not step on the brake; continue driving straight. Hopefully, the patch will end soon and you will be back in control on the road again.
  • Stay in the right lane. There is no need to drive quickly in snowy or icy conditions.

Caution: If at all possible, do not drive under these conditions.

Fog

If possible, avoid driving in heavy fog. If you must drive in fog, make sure that you follow these safety practices:

  • Turn off your high beams and turn on your fog lights (if available). Your high beams will reflect off the fog and bounce back into your eyes.
  • Slow down and increase your following distance.
  • Since your vision is obscured, use your ears. Turn off the radio and roll down your windows and listen for vehicles braking, spinning out or crashing.
  • Tap your brakes prior to braking to alert the driver behind you.
  • Stay in the far right lane and limit passing.

Smoke

Large forest or range fires, even controlled ones, can spread quickly and so can the smoke. Smaller fires, such as car or house fires, may be passable, but use extreme caution.

If you come across smoke while driving, you should:

  • Slow down and assess the situation;
  • Close all windows and vents;
  • Turn on your headlights;
  • Watch out for emergency vehicles and personnel.

You should never drive into smoke if you cannot see past it! Alter your route to get away from the smoke.

Glare

Deal with headlight glare by focusing your eyes slightly down and to the right. One of the purposes of the white stripe outlining the right edge of the road is to provide drivers with a reference line to keep their vehicles aligned with the roadway in poor visibility situations such as glare.

  • Use the right-side line to keep your vehicle on the road, but stay aware of approaching vehicles by using your peripheral vision.
  • Remember to use sunglasses for daytime glare situations or have antireflective coatings added to eyeglasses to reduce glare and improve night vision.

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