Hazardous Road Conditions
It’s important to realize that you won’t always be driving in ideal conditions. You are likely to experience something such as rain, high winds, fog, darkness, flooding, or snow at some point in your driving career. Understanding the basics of how to handle these situations is critical for defensive drivers since these conditions make driving a challenge and increase your risk of being in a crash.
This is a common road hazard, especially in Florida. When you drive in rainy conditions, the roads can become extremely slippery which can lead to skidding. The roads are most slippery right after the rain first starts since the oil from the road is mixing with the rainwater creating a slick coating on the roadway.
- If you can’t see well, other driver’s can’t see well either
- Slow down and increase your following distance
- You are required by law to turn on your low beam headlights during times of low visibility
- Do not use your hazard lights unless you pull over on the side of the road and are stopped
If you are driving in the rain, it might seem like a good idea to turn on your high beams, but doing so can impede your visibility further since the high beams reflect off of the the water. Remember that increasing your following distance is vital– in slick road conditions, you should keep 8-10 seconds between your vehicle and the one ahead. This will give you enough time to come safely to a stop if the need arises.
Tied very closely with rain is flooding. In low-laying areas or after a torrential rainstorm, you could experience flash flooding. While it may seem simple enough to ignore a pool of water on the road, you should use caution since it can be very difficult to assess the depth of the water visually.
- If you see barricades or other warning devices, heed them
- Watch other cars travel through the water to assess the depth
- Drive slowly through the water, if your brakes get wet, lightly tap the brake pedal to help them dry
Driving through standing water is dangerous, both for you and your car. Survey your surroundings and do your best to avoid areas that may have a downed power line since the water could become electrically charged. Do your best not to leave your vehicle if there is moving water. It can take as little as 6 inches of moving water to knock an average person off their feet, and there is the risk of encountering moving objects ranging from small lawn equipment items to trailers or boats.
Fog is another dangerous driving condition that you can encounter. In addition to reducing visibility, it gives drivers the sense of driving slower than they really are. Remember: if you feel like it is unsafe for you to drive, pull over on the side of the road and turn on your hazard lights. Better safe than sorry!
- Use your low beam headlights
- Keep an eye on your speedometer and remember that speed limits are for ideal conditions only
- Increase your following distance
- Watch for animals, sometimes they feel safer in foggy conditions
When you are driving in these conditions, do not use the center line as your guide. Instead, use the right edge of the road. This will help you avoid being blinded or distracted by oncoming traffic.
Driving in high wind conditions is tough, but it happens especially during hurricane season. High wind conditions are much different than traveling in rain or fog since your visibility isn’t typically impacted in the same way.
- Crosswinds make it harder to control your vehicle especially if it is a larger vehicle
- Keep both hands on the wheel in case you experience sudden gusts or unexpected movement from other drivers
- Don’t stop on bridges
In some cases, high winds can lift your vehicle upwards and carry it over a bridge’s barrier. Just like your car could take flight during heavy winds, you could encounter flying debris. Use caution when avoiding any flying debris and once the wind settles, be mindful of the fact that there will likely be building materials, trash and tree branches on the roadways.
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 (such as speed bumps, pot holes and dips).
- If you feel confident that you won’t be blinding oncoming traffic, you can use your high beams
- Keep your windshield clean so you don’t reduce your visibility further
- Continuously scan the road to reduce eye fatigue
- Avoid staring at oncoming head lights
Make adjustments to compensate for your reduced visibility. Slowing down and scanning the road continually will allow you will be more aware and alert to what is going on around you. In addition to this, 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.