Driving in bad weather is arduous and fraught with dangers. Even a sturdy and well-maintained vehicle, complete with state-of-the-art safety features such as anti-lock brakes, all-wheel drive and electronic stability may only minimize the risks rather than completely eliminate it. The only safe way for driving in bad weather is to exercise judgment and common sense.
A major reason for the increased accidents during snow and ice is many motorists not realizing that the stopping distance increases ten times, on average, when driving in snow and ice. Vehicle defects seem to also occur more often when conditions are extreme such as typical bad weather scenarios. Depending on the weight of the vehicle, the stopping distance increases anywhere between three and twelve times compared to dry or normal surfaces. Another common danger associated with snow and ice is the vehicle skidding owing to the poor grip of the wheels on the surface. The problem accentuates since it is at times difficult to realize if the road is icy. Ice on the pavement or on the windscreen or the tires making no noise on the road is telltale signs of ice on the road. Also, bridges, overpasses and infrequently traveled roads tend to freeze earlier than normal roads. Safe driving requires proceeding at a slow speed, abandoning any cruise-control settings and refraining from overtaking vehicles unless necessary. When the vehicle skids, the knee-jerk reaction of most motorists is to brake heavily. This action, however, would lock the wheels and make the vehicle skid further. A far better option is to take the foot off the accelerator and change to a lower gear. If required, press the brakes gently, rather than pumping them. A safe practice is to select second gear when pulling away.
As in the case of snow or ice, rain also increases the stopping distance of vehicles, to about double. Keeping a safe distance to the vehicle in front reduces the chances of accidents considerably. A big danger with rain is surface water that may flood the engine. The best practice when driving through floods is to proceed slowly in the first gear without stalling, keeping the engine revving at a high rate. At times, the vehicle may “hydroplane” or ride on a wedge of water, with the tires losing contact with the road and rendering the brakes or steering ineffective. In such eventuality, the best practice is to keep the steering wheel straight and remove the foot from the accelerator. As the vehicle shows down, the weight will allow regaining the surface. Once out of water, test the brakes before proceeding. Driving through floods however is best avoided, as even two feet of water is enough to carry away most vehicles.
Driving through fog is extremely dangerous owing to low visibility. Many drivers tend to follow the taillights of the vehicle ahead, but this is a bad practice as it lulls the driver to a false sense of security. The best practice when driving through fog is to drive at an extremely slow speed using dipped headlights. Use fog lights when rear high intensity lights when visibility is less than 100 feet. Many drivers increase speed as soon as visibility improves. This is a mistake, as fog is usually patchy and a dense fog may reappear abruptly.
Most drivers underestimate the danger posed by strong winds. Powerful gusts associated with cyclones may blow the vehicle away, but even otherwise, strong crosswinds can cause the driver to lose control of vehicles, especially when traveling at a high speed. Overall, the basic considerations when driving in bad weather are:
• Avoid driving unless necessary
• Drive at a very slow speed
• Maintain a safe distance with the vehicle ahead
• Avoid sudden acceleration, braking or overtaking
• Pay heed to warnings such as radio travel bulletins, traffic diversion signals, snow gates and other signs