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Driving in Hazardous Conditions

In Nevada, the weather can be quite unpredictable. The sun doesn't always shine, and sometimes when it does, it's a little too bright and annoying. That bothersome glare may even become a hazard when you have difficulty making out that traffic light up ahead. When it rains, we say we need it - unless we happen to be driving. Then we see a rash of collisions caused by bad driving, which may only frustrate us further.

Driving in hazardous conditions requires special skills and extra caution. Generally, when driving in poor weather conditions, you need your full attention on the roadway, which may require you to slow down, stay on paved roadways, and follow in the path of the car ahead as much as possible. When following other vehicles, you should increase your following distance. In addition, you should turn on your headlights even if you think you can see just fine. With the lights on, your vehicle will be more visible to others. Road conditions also play a major role in driving. Knowledge of road conditions and weather is valuable in helping you to determine the safest route in which to travel.


Journal Question

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Poor weather conditions may also mean getting stranded. This may be rare, but you still need to know how to prepare for that if you ever become this unfortunate. One of the best ways is to keep a survival kit containing a few items in your car. List at least five items you think you should include in a survival kit.

[ CLICK HERE to add an entry to your Journal ]



Video: Driving in Bad Weather

Traffic crashes are more common during severe weather conditions, and this is in part because many drivers do not make the necessary adjustments. Watch the following video to see how weather affects your driving, and think about how you would modify your driving behavior in relation to it.

Video: "Driving in Bad Weather"
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As you can see from the video, the weather itself can reduce visibility and traction. For these reasons, you must adapt your driving style to the conditions for your own safety.

Driving at Night

When you drive at night, you may encounter less traffic on the road. This may make you feel safer, but the problem is that you also have less light at night, which means potential hazards like pedestrians, bicyclists, and other vehicles will be harder to see. The reduced visibility at night makes it more dangerous than driving during the day.

An image of someone driving at night

For most of us, it is quite obvious that we should turn on our headlights at night.

Most of us know that we should turn on our headlights at night. After all, when it turns dark, it's difficult to see the road, much less a pedestrian or another vehicle. Just check out the picture on the right. Although this road continues on further ahead, you can only see as far as where the headlights shine. The rest is pitch black. Even with lights from street lamps and storefronts that allow you to see further ahead, as shown in the other picture, you still won't be able to see some things clearly. You can safely drive at only 20-25 mph with low beams. With high beams, you can travel faster as they let you see obstacles that are up to 450 feet ahead. Never "overdrive" your headlights; you must be able to stop your vehicle within the distance your headlights project.

The law in Nevada requires drivers to turn on their headlights from 30 minutes after sunset to 30 minutes before sunrise and any other time when they can't clearly see 1,000 feet ahead. For added safety, you should turn on your headlights just before it gets dark. When driving at night, you should also:

An image of a street after dark

Even with lights from street lamps, some things are still difficult to see at night.

  • Make sure your windows are clean.
  • Make sure your headlights are clean and working well. Have them checked from time to time for correct aim.
  • Use your high beams when there are no oncoming vehicles.
  • Do not overdrive your headlights. Your headlights only let you see about 350 feet ahead. Be sure you are driving slow enough to stop or turn if you need to.
  • Slow down when nearing a curve if you are driving the maximum posted speed limit.
  • Use the edge line (the line that marks the right edge of the road) as a guide. If there are no edge lines, use the center line to guide you.
  • Stay awake and alert. Do not drive if you feel tired.
  • Watch carefully for highway signs - they are harder to see at night.
  • Watch carefully for people and vehicles stopped on the side of the road.

Driving in the Rain

An image of a windshield wiper being used on a rainy day

Windshield wipers help improve visibility by clearing the windshield of water.

In Nevada, it rains only occasionally. But when it does, especially after a period of dry weather, the road can become slippery early on. This is because when the road gets wet, water mixes with oil that has seeped into the pavement, making it extremely dangerous to drive. The road is at its most slippery during the first 30 minutes of rain after a long, dry spell. Traction (the vehicle's ability to stick to the road) is severely reduced under these conditions, which can make driving quite an adventure. A broken water main, a garden sprinkler, snow and ice, oil, gravel and sand can also make the road slick and difficult to drive upon.

Tips for Driving in the Rain

So what can you do to be safe on the roads when it rains?

Reduce Your Vehicle's Speed - The best thing to do when driving on a wet or slippery road is to slow down and keep your speed down. Traffic safety experts recommend slowing down to about one-third of your normal driving speed. Use your best judgment to determine a safe speed. Any posted speed limit is for ideal conditions, which means a dry and clear road. You are only asking for trouble if you drive at the posted speed limit on a wet or slippery road. Traveling at low speeds will allow you to get better traction as more of your tires' tread makes contact with the road. Be particularly careful when entering a curve because it's easy to spin out when the pavement in the curve is wet.

Ensure Your Visibility - Always turn on your low beams when driving in bad weather. Although that may not help you to see better, it will increase your visibility to other drivers. Use your windshield wipers and/or defroster to clear your windshield of water, snow or anything else that impairs your visibility.

Increase Your Vehicle's Following and Stopping Distance - You will need substantially longer stopping distances when driving on wet or slippery roads. It can take at least two to three times longer to stop your vehicle than it would on dry roads. Add at least one second to your following distance, more if there is a downpour or the road is icy. Be alert for brake lights in front of you indicating traffic is slowing ahead. Avoid driving in cruise control so you can be more vigilant and responsive.

How to Stay on the Roadway - You can easily lose control of your vehicle on a wet or slippery road, which may cause you to drift out of your lane or off the roadway. To stay on the roadway, you should:

  • Stay on the paved portion of the roadway, as close to the center of your lane as possible.
  • Drive in the tracks of the vehicle ahead. Traction is better where water has been cleared from the road.
  • Avoid making any sudden braking or steering maneuvers because they may cause you to skid.

Hydroplaning

An image of a car hydroplaning

Hydroplaning causes you to lose control of the vehicle.

During periods of heavy rain or where there are large puddles of standing water on the road, you may see some drivers lose control of their vehicles. They are most likely hydroplaning, or skidding across the roadway on water. Hydroplaning occurs when the tread on the tires are unable to push out all the water on the road, resulting in a complete loss of traction. This means you lose all your vehicle controls such as braking, steering and accelerating when your vehicle hydroplanes. A slight change in direction or a gust of wind can cause you to skid. You have a greater chance of hydroplaning on a wet road when traveling at excessive speeds.

If your vehicle hydroplanes, you must regain control as quickly as possible. Do not touch your brakes because that may lead to a skid. Instead, you need to gently ease your foot off the accelerator and maintain a firm grip on your steering wheel. You should also counter-steer to point your vehicle in the direction you intend to travel. Coast until the hydroplane stops and you regain traction. To avoid hydroplaning, be prepared beforehand by keeping your tires properly inflated and ensuring that they have sufficient tread. If you are already on the road, slow down to a safe speed in the rain and avoid driving through puddles. Follow in the tracks of the vehicle ahead if possible.

Driving Through Deep Water

Water can make a road appear even, but underneath there may be potholes or a roadway that has been eroded completely away! The deep end of a swimming pool may not look so different from the shallow end; it's the same way with a water-covered road. In addition, your brakes and engine can get wet, and that may lead to mechanical problems. Moving water is deceptively powerful, even if it is only a foot or two deep; even a small current can literally sweep your vehicle away! An SUV offers no advantage because its size and larger tires can make it more buoyant and thus more prone to being swept away.

Never drive through puddles or flooded roadways no matter how shallow they appear to be. You are better off seeking an alternate route. If you really have no choice, you should slow down and shift to a lower gear. In some cases, roadblocks are set up to prevent drivers from passing through flooded roadways. Do not drive around these; it is both illegal and dangerous to do so.

Driving in Snow or on Ice

An image of a snowy road

Snow on the road means less available traction and a longer stopping distance.

Snow and ice both reduce the available traction on the road, resulting in substantially longer stopping distances for vehicles. Additionally, you need to drive slower, take extra precautions on turns, and leave more room between other vehicles and curbs. You also need greater anticipation and awareness of other vehicles on the road. Removal of any snow buildup on the vehicle can help minimize the dangers of driving in snow. When driving in the snow, you should use headlights, windshield wipers and driving lamps for maximum visibility. Also use all-weather radial tires, snow tires, or chains when necessary.

Does the winter season bring snow to your area? Are you prepared to be stuck in your car for a period of time? Be sure your vehicle can handle the rigors of winter driving before you head out by checking on the following (your mechanic can do these for you):

An image of tire chains

Tire chains can help make driving a little easier during the winter season.

  • Brakes and tires - use snow tires or tire chains
  • Battery and ignition system
  • Antifreeze and thermostat
  • Windshield wipers and de-icing washer fluid
  • Headlights, tail/brake lights, turn signals and emergency flashers
  • Exhaust system, heater and defroster
  • Oil
  • Properly lubricate door locks that may be prone to freezing

Winter Survival Kit

Before leaving home, pack a snow storm survival kit and store it in your car at all times. The kit should contain:

  • Extra warm clothing.
  • Sturdy shoes.
  • Warm winter gloves.
  • Blankets.
  • A flashlight.
  • Extra batteries for the flashlight.
  • A battery-operated radio.
  • Highway flares.
  • Booster cables.
  • A length of rope.
  • Tow cable or chain.
  • Ice and snow scrapers.
  • A pocket knife.
  • Matches (waterproof).
  • Non-perishable food. Non-perishables include ready-to-eat canned or packaged food. Pack a non-electric can opener, cooking tools, fuel, paper plates, plastic utensils, and any other food-related items. Be sure to pack foods appropriate for infants or the elderly, if you have any traveling with you.
  • Drinking water (lots).
  • A camping or backpacking stove can also be handy.
  • Add a brightly colored cloth so that you can mark your location if you have to leave your car.

Leave your car only if it is safe to do so. Other drivers may be experiencing the same problems. You will be much safer if you remain in your car instead of standing out exposed to traffic.

Black Ice

An image of black ice

Black ice makes driving dangerous because it is unexpected and difficult to detect.

Rain that occurs when temperatures are falling often leads to the formation of black ice, which is a thin layer of ice created when water on the road freezes. Black ice is virtually invisible and difficult to detect because you can only see the black asphalt of the road underneath. It is most often found on the surfaces of bridges, intersections and shaded areas during early morning or late night hours. Icy roads are much more dangerous for driving, mostly because they are unexpected. Snowy roads can actually be safer because drivers tend to slow down more when it snows than when it rains. The traction on snowy roads also is usually better.

Drivers can easily skid and lose control of their vehicles on roads covered by black ice when they drive at normal highway speeds. You must slow down when driving in these conditions and avoid sudden movements. If you start to skid, avoid using your brakes and instead slow down by easing off the gas.

Stopping Distance

If you have to drive on roads covered with ice or packed snow, be aware that it may take as much as ten times longer to stop your vehicle than it would on dry pavement. Have you ever gone ice skating? Even standing still on the ice rink is difficult. Your vehicle will likewise have difficulty gripping the road, and for that reason you need a lot of room in which to operate. Therefore you should increase your following distance to at least 10 seconds.

Driving in the Fog

An image of a foggy road

Fog drastically reduces visibility on the road.

You should expect and prepare for fog during the winter months, as it can appear without warning. Fog is extremely hazardous because it drastically reduces visibility on the road. In heavy fog, visibility is often less than one car length, meaning you're better off not driving at all. Fog usually burns off after a period of time, so it is better to be patient and wait it out than to risk a crash. However, if you must drive, leave earlier and take steps to ensure safe travel. These also apply when driving through heavy smoke.

Visibility - When driving in fog, visibility is essential. This means you must keep your windows and lights clean; if they are dirty, they will make it harder for you to see. Due to the patchy nature of fog, you may encounter areas with lower visibility. If you are near a river or other large body of water, expect even greater difficulty in seeing the road.

Turn on your low beams so that other drivers can see you, whether it is day or night. High beams will reflect light back at you in fog, resulting in glare that makes it difficult for you to see. Never use high beams in fog. Use fog lights if your vehicle is equipped with them.

Make sure your windshield is clear; use your windshield wipers and defrosters as needed. Increase your visibility as much as possible to maximize your safety when driving in fog. Signal for turns well in advance and brake early when approaching a stop to help others see your vehicle.

Roads have painted markings; use them as a guide to help you stay within your lane. Avoid changing lanes or passing other vehicles except in emergencies. Be cautious when entering areas with lower speed limits, such as school zones.

Reduce Your Vehicle's Speed - You must slow down considerably in fog, but without stopping unless conditions require it. Only drive as fast as your visibility allows. As you move along, watch for slow-moving or stopped vehicles ahead of you to avoid hitting them.

If visibility is reduced to zero, you must try to stop your vehicle, but only if you can find a safe place. Signal and carefully pull over off the road, preferably at the nearest exit or rest area. If you can't do this safely, pull over onto the shoulder as far from the road as possible. Stopping on the roadway in fog is dangerous. It may lead to a rear-end collision since drivers behind you will not expect a stopped vehicle in their path. Check your rearview mirror for any vehicles approaching from the rear and tap your brakes to ensure that a collision does not occur.

What to Do If Your Vehicle Stalls - If your vehicle begins to stall when you drive in fog, pull over as far off the roadway as you can and as soon as possible, taking care not to collide with other cars. Turn off your lights and activate your emergency flashers. Open your trunk or hood to increase the visibility of your vehicle. When it is safe, get out and move as far away as possible from the car with all your passengers. However, if it is not safe to be outside, remain inside with the seat belts fastened.

Other Hazardous Conditions

Safe Driving in Dust Storms

An image of a dust storm

Dust storms present a safety hazard and must be taken seriously.

Dust storms are health hazards that often make it virtually impossible to drive. They are created when strong storm winds pick up dirt and sand particles in such quantities that visibility is seriously reduced. Dust storms usually occur in the afternoon on hot summer days when "thunderhead" clouds appear in the sky. They appear as walls of dust and dirt that are seen from quite a distance.

Severe weather occurrences, including dust storms, are broadcast over the radio and television. Since dust storms can last for a few hours, they often force the closure of major highways. Dust storms present a safety hazard and must be taken seriously. Ideally, you should stay indoors when one occurs. If you are driving and believe you see a dust storm, it is always wise to turn your radio on to listen for warnings. You should also:

  • Reduce your speed, pull off the roadway immediately, and turn OFF ALL vehicle lights. However, if you cannot pull over right away, you need to turn ON your lights. When you can safely stop, pull over and turn off the lights.
  • If you are driving on a freeway, exit as soon as possible if you can do so safely.
  • Pull off the roadway to the shoulder if visibility is less than 300 feet (the length of a football field). Do not stop on the traveled portion of the highway.
  • After stopping, turn off your driving lights.
  • Take your foot off the brake.
  • Wait until visibility is at 300 feet or more before you return to the roadway.
  • Be prepared for flooding as heavy rain often follows a dust storm. Avoid crossing flooded highway dips even if it did not rain where you were coming from.

Dust storms also can cause serious health problems or make existing ones worse. The lungs are the parts of your body that are most sensitive to dust, so you may experience some irritation, allergic reactions, asthma attacks, or other breathing problems. Your best option is to stay indoors during severe dust storms. If you really must go out, spend as little time outside as possible and avoid hard exercise.

Safe Driving in Extreme Heat Conditions

An image of a first aid bag

The number of vehicle breakdowns increases when temperatures reach the 90s and 100s.

In Nevada, summer temperatures can sometimes reach triple digits, but it can still get hot. It is important for you to double check your vehicle during these conditions to prevent heat-related breakdowns. Auto Club members have reported an increase in vehicle breakdowns by 50% during the days where temperatures reach the 90s and 100s. A check-up of your vehicle's key equipment, including batteries, air conditioning, and cooling systems, is recommended as well as the following tasks:

  • Check the antifreeze and coolant level and ensure appropriate mixture with water.
  • Check and replace worn, blistered, or cracked belts and hoses.
  • Check for uneven or worn tires and properly inflate all of them (including the spare).
  • Check the level of motor oil. Use heavier motor oil when driving under extreme weather conditions.
  • Check and replace old or weak batteries.
  • Check the transmission fluid level and make sure it is clean, not dirty or emitting a burnt odor.
  • Use a higher octane fuel when temperatures are high.
  • Keep your car equipped with emergency items and a lot of drinking water, especially if traveling for an extended period of time. Keep a windshield shade to block out the hot sun if you become stranded.

Remember, when driving in hot temperatures, it is never safe to leave children or pets inside the vehicle even with the windows open. Temperatures can quickly reach over 120 degrees inside the vehicle when it is 100 degrees outside. If the engine gets too hot while driving, always turn off your air conditioner and turn on your heater. This will help to "draw" heat away from the engine and cool it down. When going up a steep hill or grade, turn off your air conditioner to lessen the strain on the engine and limit the chances of a breakdown.

Driving in High Winds

An image of high winds

High winds can cause loss of control, especially if you are driving a high-profile vehicle.

High winds can cause you to lose control of your vehicle, with gusts often able to push it off the road. Slowing down to lower speeds can ease the danger of driving in high winds. High-profile vehicles, such as campers, trucks, or recreational vehicles (RVs), are more susceptible to overturning when high winds are prevalent.

Driving in Curves

When driving on curvy roads, you must slow down your vehicle prior to approaching the curve. Braking in the curve, in addition to causing strain to the tires, may cause skidding, especially if the road is slippery. In addition, you need a greater awareness of road and traffic conditions because you will have difficulty seeing the road ahead.

Other potential hazards include:

  • Entrances to parking lots
  • Controlled and uncontrolled intersections
  • Highway on- and off-ramps
  • School zones
  • Narrow bridges
  • Winding roads and hills
  • Off-road vehicles
  • Areas where you lack a line of sight in the distance
  • Areas where the width of the road decreases
  • Oncoming vehicles (especially large ones) that produce air turbulence
  • Hidden intersections