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What to Do When You Can’t See the Road

July 23, 2014

Taking a road trip when the sun is shining and the weather is warm can be one of life’s greatest pleasures. You’re driving along, the warm, evening sun is shining on you, and the perfect music makes you feel like you’re in a movie montage. But driving when conditions are wet, snowy, icy, foggy or rainy is an entirely different story. When bad weather conditions make it hard to see, driving can become more than a challenge – it can be downright dangerous. Spring weather in Colorado can be capricious, as shown yet again by this spring’s late snowstorm and the recent thunderstorms that dumped as much as 6 inches of hail in some places. Early summer also brings frequent downpours, which can be equally difficult and dangerous to drive in.

When visibility is poor, you need to know what to do when driving. You also need to know when (and how) to get off the road to wait for conditions to improve.

Maintain Visibility

In wet weather or in otherwise poor driving conditions, drive with your headlights on. Not only does this give you a little extra light to see by, it helps other drivers see you. Many modern cars automatically turn on the headlights as soon as you turn on the ignition because it improves the visibility of your car on the road, even in the best driving conditions. But if you drive an older car, you can do the same simply by remembering to turn them on yourself. However, keep your headlights on low beams when driving through hard rain or fog. Using high beams actually tends to reduce your visibility because too much of the light reflects back into your own eyes from the fog or raindrops.

Check Your Speed

When it’s hard to see, common sense says you need to slow down. If visibility is poor, you will have less time to see and react to other cars, obstacles, road conditions or anything else that may happen around your car. Also give yourself plenty of stopping distance from anyone in front of you.

While many drivers are aware of the dangers of slick roads during snow and ice storms, rain can create slick pavement, too, especially if the weather has been dry for a long period. Oil, dirt, grease and rubber left on the road surface by vehicles gets lifted by the water, forming a slippery sheen that can send you out of control. Be especially careful during the first few minutes of any rainstorm until there has been enough rain to wash away the extra oil. Even then, remember that wet pavement is always slicker than dry pavement, so drive cautiously.

It’s Always Better to Play It Safe

Sometimes conditions are simply too bad to drive. When in doubt, it’s best to play it safe. If you’re not sure you can drive safely, look for a way to get off the road and wait it out. But remember that you need to keep safety in mind, even when you’re not driving.

If at all possible, look for a public place where you can park without driving too far, whether that’s a rest stop or a restaurant parking lot. If you are on the highway and need to stop, but there are no exits, look for an area with a broad enough shoulder to get well off the road. Use your turn signals well in advance of where you plan to stop and don’t jam on your brakes, which would increase both the chance of your car skidding on a wet road and someone behind you rear-ending your car. Pull as far off the side of the road as you safely can, and turn on your hazard lights so other cars can see you. Wait for conditions to clear until you can see well enough to safely get back on the road.

What to Keep with You

Finally, keeping some basic safety equipment in your car can help you stay safe in poor conditions. Always keep an ice scraper in your car if you ever drive in winter weather, and a flashlight comes in handy in many emergencies. Orange safety cones, hazard triangles or flares can help other drivers see you if you need to pull over for an extended period of time. A shovel and sand can help if traction is poor, and a poncho is useful protection in wet weather. Extra water and some snacks are a good idea to keep in the car for all kinds of situations, including stopping because of poor visibility.

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