People are often not surprised when private passenger vehicle drivers make mistakes, but paid drivers are often viewed as professionals who should meet higher safety and performance standards. Driving safely during all kinds of weather, traffic, and road conditions is expected.
Each type of adverse weather condition can present unique hazards. Listed below are tips for staying safe when weather conditions make driving challenging.
Driving during adverse weather can be demanding for both you and your vehicle. It is important to know that your vehicle is ready for all types of weather conditions. Take time to inspect your vehicle and emergency supplies, keeping in mind the role they may play in helping you deal with adverse weather conditions.
Make sure you know what to expect during your trip and allow extra time for unexpected delays. Listen to the latest weather reports to stay informed about adverse weather conditions. In the case of severe weather, consider altering your route to avoid the worst weather or postponing your trip until conditions improve.
Safe speed and space
Most importantly, reducing your speed and increasing your following distance are your best defenses when weather becomes a hazard. Under ideal road and weather conditions, the recommended following distance for small vehicles, such as sedans, minivans and pick-up trucks, is 3 seconds. For medium-sized vehicles, such as 15-passenger vans and small trucks and buses, the recommended following distance is 4-6 seconds. Larger vehicles, such as heavy trucks and buses, require a 6-8 second following distance.1 During adverse road and weather conditions, increase your following distance even further than these minimum standards.
Rain is one of the most common adverse weather conditions. Despite this, drivers often overlook the dangers of driving in rain. The hazards associated with rain include slippery road surfaces, wet brakes, reduced visibility and traffic congestion. Compensate for these hazards by reducing your speed and increasing your following distance.
Watch for pools of water on the road. Hydroplaning occurs when tires ride above the road surface on a thin layer of water. It is possible for vehicles to hydroplane at speeds as low as 30 miles per hour. Your speed, tire tread depth, and road surface characteristics are all factors that can influence whether a vehicle is at risk of hydroplaning. Watch for other motorists who are driving smaller, lighter vehicles, who may be more likely to lose control of their vehicles. Turn on your lights to help other motorists see your vehicle.
Road conditions can vary depending on the quantity of snow and other characteristics. Slow down to compensate for increased stopping distance and to maintain control of your vehicle. Accelerate slowly and look far ahead for potential hazards.
In some areas of the country snow chains may be required. Before traveling in these areas, make sure you have the required chains and that they are in good condition. In areas of the country where snow is uncommon, be especially cautious of motorists who may not have experience driving in snow. Expect hazardous conditions in areas where state and local agencies may not have the equipment needed to keep roads clear of snow and ice.
Ice and freezing rain can present the most hazardous conditions. Stopping distance can increase dramatically on ice and the potential for losing control of your vehicle is high. Under these conditions it is critical to reduce your speed, increase your following distance and proceed very cautiously. Brake and turn carefully. Look far ahead for potential hazards. Under severe conditions, find a safe place to park and wait for conditions to improve.
During freezing temperatures, watch for ice on the roadway, even when the weather is clear. Melting snow and ice can refreeze at night when temperatures drop below freezing. Ice can form in shaded areas under bridges and overpasses at times when roads are otherwise free of ice. Ice can also form more quickly on bridge decks and overpasses.
Glare ice is perhaps the most dangerous condition. Freezing rain can quickly turn to ice on the roadway, especially when road surface temperatures are below freezing. Accumulating ice on your mirrors, windshield, antennas, and on road signs are indications that ice is also forming on the roadway. A lack of water spray from other vehicles is also an indication that ice is forming.
Fog and smoke
Fog and smoke can present a serious and unexpected hazard, sometimes greatly reducing visibility in just seconds. Many serious car and truck pile-ups have occurred as a result of thick fog or smoke. Watch for fog to accumulate in low-lying areas. The potential hazards of fog and smoke include reduced visibility, headlight glare, sudden traffic congestion and vehicles stopped on the roadway. When approaching fog or smoke, slow down to ensure there is enough space to stop safely if you encounter slowed or stopped traffic. Use your low-beam headlights. When visibility is severely reduced, consider parking in a safe place and waiting for conditions to improve.
Strong winds can create an extreme hazard for high-profile vehicles, such as tractor-trailers and recreational vehicles. The weight and configuration of your vehicle can impact how it will be affected by wind. When traveling during strong wind conditions, reduce your speed and focus on staying in your lane. Watch for other motorists who may be having difficulties staying in their lanes. Blowing dust and dirt can reduce visibility. Blowing debris can cause other motorists to drive erratically. If the wind is strong enough to threaten the stability of your vehicle, find a safe place to park and wait for conditions to improve.
Driving defensively is always important, but during adverse weather conditions, it is critical. Plan ahead and be prepared. Remember to adjust your speed and following distance in all adverse weather conditions. Do not take chances when weather and road conditions deteriorate. Drive with caution and watch for other motorists who lack the skill or experience to drive safely. Most importantly, under severe conditions, finding a safe place to park and waiting for conditions to improve may be your safest option.
1 Based on the National Safety Council’s following distance recommendations, DDC Instructor Reference Materials, 2012.