Driving in Hazardous Conditions
Driving your vehicle in hazardous conditions, such as snow, heavy rain, or thick fog, is a matter of preparation, practice, and―as always with driving―calm and caution. And just because it is not a blizzard does not mean conditions are not hazardous. With the oils and exhaust that accumulate on highways, only a small amount of precipitation can cause the roadway to become slick, hindering your ability to control and stop the vehicle. And a fog bank or dust storm can suddenly reduce your visibility to zero.
Pack for Preparation
Driving in hazardous conditions also requires some forethought on what you may need for the conditions: water for long trips, blankets and coats for wintry rides, and so forth. Regardless of road conditions, it is a good idea to have a basic first-aid kit in the car.
Beyond bandages, antibacterial ointment, antihistamine, and any other medication that might be necessary, a good first-aid kit should have a couple of large towels, preferably dark in color, for use to apply pressure and cover a wound. The kit should also include cloth bandage wraps, cotton swabs, liquid tears, pain reliever, and a guide to CPR, which can be found online and printed.
For a trip in what might be adverse conditions, add to your preparation kit accordingly. If you plan on traveling through snowy slopes, have tire chains ready. Also include some outerwear that can get dirty and wet, including pants, coat, and gloves, as you might find yourself beneath the car putting the snow chains on. Rubber gardening gloves work well, as they protect your hands but allow you to use your fingers with enough dexterity to complete the task.
If the trip will be through rain, bring some waterproof and spare clothing so no one has to stay in wet clothes should something happen. You should always consider what would happen if you were to be involved in an accident or if your vehicle breaks down. A charged mobile phone is, of course, ideal for any road trip, and it can save a tremendous amount of time and trouble in case you get stranded or need other assistance.
Snow and rain are not the only adverse conditions. Extreme heat can be hard on vehicles, not to mention the humans and pets they carry. Make sure there is enough water for everyone. Use air conditioning wisely, and be prepared to have to turn it off through steep mountain climbs or in other circumstances when your engine might overheat or you need more power. Wet cloths can help keep the driver and passengers cooler if there is no air conditioning.
Other hazardous conditions drivers may encounter, such as strong winds that down tree limbs or power lines, require extra caution from motorists. The most important thing is to stay focused on the road: what is ahead of you and what is behind you.
Don't let the outside conditions disrupt your attention. If the situation is making you uneasy, slow down. Other motorists who wish to hurry around you might not appreciate it, but it is up to you to ensure you are driving safely. Make your own well-being and that of your passengers the top priority, and don't worry about other, more aggressive drivers.
The first rule of actually driving in hazardous conditions, which also might include times of low visibility from fog or fire, is to use common sense. If visibility is low, you need to slow way down. If you can't see more than a few feet in front of your vehicle, it is unsafe to drive―at all. In this case, pull off the road as far as you can, turn on your hazards, and get away from the vehicle and the roadway in case your car is struck by another motorist who can't see anything either.
The second rule of driving in hazardous conditions is to familiarize yourself with those conditions. Pick a place where there is plenty of roadway. After making sure there are no other vehicles approaching from behind or head on, try to stop quickly to test the conditions. This will give you a better sense of how much extra stopping space you will need to maintain. It will also make you better at reactive driving to avoid a collision or loss of control.
Safe Speed and Distance
The third rule of driving in hazardous conditions centers on slowing down and keeping a safe distance between yourself and the drivers in front of you. Think about what would happen if a deer were to jump out on a snowy highway, and the person in front of you slammed on the brakes. Consider whether you would be able to stop soon enough if there was an accident up ahead of you. Don't let other drivers riding too close behind you force you into tailgating, too.
The most common mistake that motorists make is not leaving enough of a cushion between themselves and motorists in front of them. You are not competing in a race. You are trying to enjoy the ride to your destination and keep yourself and your passengers safe.
If the driver behind you can't leave the proper distance between their front bumper and your rear end, don't respond by hitting the brakes. Simply maintain your speed. If you leave enough room in front of you, there will be space for the aggressive driver to pass and get back into rushing along. Don't be surprised when you later see that motorist pulled over by police or off the road because of loss of control.
Several state and federal agencies offer additional tips on driving in hazardous conditions, including:
Local DMV Office