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Driving in rain, fog and other bad weather

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When bad weather occurs, it is best to stay in and avoid driving. But sometimes, driving in bad weather is unavoidable. Poor weather conditions, like fog, rain, snow and tornadoes, present a complicated driving experience. These conditions limit your line of sight, can alter your depth perception and cause many more distractions, especially when there are other drivers on the road.

Poor weather can also provide challenges that are not always present when driving under normal conditions — having to take an unexpected, alternate route because of road closures, conditions and accidents, for instance. You may also need to reference maps or GPS, which means taking your eyes off the road when all your focus should be on driving. In these situations, the risk of accident and injury are increased, making driving in bad weather a hazard to everyone around. When you are armed with the knowledge of how to drive in these conditions and safety tips, you can be a more informed and careful driver in bad weather.

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10 Stats about bad weather
  1. Each year, 75 percent of weather-related vehicle crashes occur on wet pavement and 47 percent happen during rainfall. (FHWA road management)
  2. Nearly 5,700 people are killed and more than 544,700 people are injured in crashes on wet pavement annually. Over 3,400 people are killed and over 357,300 people are injured in crashes during rainfall. (FHWA road management)
  3. Using road salt reduces crashes on four-lane roads by 93%. (highways.org)
  4. 544 million vehicle-hours of delay per year are due to snow, ice and fog. This is nearly one-quarter of all non-recurrent delays. (highways.org)
  5. There were 325,510 flood-damaged cars on the road in 2017 — a 20% increase from the previous year. (Carfax)
  6. Fog was a factor in nearly 20 percent of deadly multi car pile-ups involving 10 or more vehicles, according to a 2017 study. (NYT)
  7. A good set of winter tires usually costs between $500-$1000. (Business Insider)
  8. During heavy to moderate rain, the automatic emergency braking safety system failed 33% of the time and lane keep assist, 69 percent. (AAA)
  9. When driving on wet roads, reduce speed by half. On snow-packed roads, travel at one-third the normal speed. (FMCSA)
  10. While fog causes the fewest number of accidents when compared to other weather-related events at just three percent, it causes 9 percent of fatalities in weather-related crashes. (FHWA road management)

Being prepared to drive in fog, rain or other bad weather

You should prepare yourself well before getting in your car to drive in bad weather. Putting measures in place ahead of time can help ensure you get to your destination safely and are prepared if something happens during your trip:

  • Check the forecast: Familiarize yourself with the forecast and be prepared to adjust your driving plan and route as needed.
  • Plan your route: Before you head out, plan your path. If you are driving in an unfamiliar area, bring a passenger with you to help with navigation in case you need to change your route.
  • Allow extra time: Give yourself extra time to get to your destination, as different factors can lengthen your commute, such as traffic, accidents, road clearing, flooding, etc.
  • Avoid distractions: Maintain full focus on the road and your surroundings when driving in bad weather. This means avoiding distracted driving: stay off the phone, don’t text or change the music, no eating or applying makeup, etc.
  • Check your tires: Make sure your tires are appropriate for your vehicle and the weather and are properly inflated.
  • Charge your phone: In case of emergency, make sure your phone is fully charged.
  • Check your car insurance: With an increased chance of accidents, check that your insurance is up to date and you have proper coverage in place. Consider including roadside assistance if you are not a member of AAA or AARP.
  • Keep a full tank: Keep your gas tank full in case you have to alter your route or get stuck in traffic or behind an accident cleanup.
  • Make an emergency kit: Have an emergency kit in your vehicle with items like jumper cables, flashlights with full batteries and flares.
  • Stock up on other essentials: Be prepared with warm blankets, snacks and water in case you get stuck and need to wait for help.
  • Wear your seatbelt: Wear your seatbelt at all times. It’s the law in almost all states and can keep you and your passengers safe.
  • Don’t be afraid to pull over: Pull over if you feel drowsy, the weather is too bad to see safely or it impedes your route.

Driving tips for fog

Fog can be one of the most dangerous bad weather conditions to drive in. Here are some tips to follow from car gurus that can help you when driving in fog:

  • Use the proper lights: To maintain the most visibility for other drivers, use your low-beam headlights to drive in fog. Low-beams also turn on your taillights, making it easier for others to see you. If you have fog lights, use them. High beams can be dangerous in fog, because they can create a halo that makes it harder for you and other drivers to see.
  • Take your time and slow down: Fight the urge to speed up, as fog can alter your perception and make you feel you are driving slower than you really are. Fog, especially dense fog, can prevent you from seeing another vehicle, object or animal until it’s too late.
  • Keep your windshield clear: Using your windshield wipers and defroster on the lowest setting can keep the windshield clear, improving your view.
  • Maintain safe distances: Sudden stops and traffic changes are more common in bad weather, especially fog. Keep a safe distance from the car in front of you, at least twice what you would leave normally.
  • Watch the road closely: Keep an eye on the road lines to ensure you stay in your lane when visibility is limited.
  • Pull over and find a place to park if you can’t see: Dense fog can sometimes limit visibility to near zero. In these cases, your best option is to use your hazard lights and pull over to a safe location, like a parking lot, until visibility improves.
  • If you have to pull over on the side of the road, do it as safely as possible: If there is not a safe option like a parking lot, pull your car to the roadside, getting as far out of the travel lane as possible. Turn off your lights but keep your hazards on, engage the emergency brake and remove your foot from the brake pedal so the tail lights are not illuminated.

Driving tips for rain

Rain is one of the more common bad weather events many drivers face driving in. Consider these tips from defensivedriving.org before you drive to your next destination in the rain:

  • Stay home if you can, especially during heavy rain events. Unless you have to drive, avoid going out at least until the heaviest rain is over.
  • Drive slowly and maintain a longer distance from the car in front of you. If the rain just started, be careful as oil can pool on the road, causing slippery conditions. Driving too fast can make you hydroplane and lose control.
  • Only use cruise control in dry conditions. Maintaining full control of the vehicle while driving under wet conditions allows you to react appropriately if you have to slow down unexpectedly.
  • Use the front and rear defrosters to improve visibility.
  • Allow a wide distance between you and other vehicles on the road. Pay close attention and watch for brake lights in front of you.
  • Your headlights should be on if your windshield wipers are. Headlights make it easier for you to see and for others to see your vehicle.
  • If you have to slow down, don’t slam on the brakes. Instead, ease into braking to avoid hydroplaning or coming in contact with the surrounding cars.
  • When driving on wet roads, use gentle and smooth movements. When braking, accelerating and steering, try to avoid jerking or sudden movements.
  • With heavy rains in the forecast, stay away from flood-prone roads. Never drive into flooded locations. If you can’t see the roads, turn around so you don’t drown.
  • Always stay on roadways This can help you avoid getting stuck in puddles or having to drive through standing water.
  • If you start to skid, continue steering in the direction you’re headed. Don’t slam on the brakes or try to steer in the other direction.
  • Don’t panic if the car hydroplanes. Keep reading below to find out how to properly drive when hydroplaning.
  • Use the tracks of the car ahead of you while maintaining a safe distance.
  • Buses and large trucks can reduce your visibility, especially when driving through puddles. Avoid them when possible.
  • Wind gusts can happen at any time. Keep your hands on the wheel at all times with a firm grip to prepare for them and stay away from high-profile vehicles.
  • Pay attention if there are pedestrians walking nearby. Try to avoid splashing them with puddles.
  • Check your tires before setting out. Properly inflated tires with plenty of tread will keep you on the road with the right traction. Check your pressure and tread-depth before you go.
  • Maintain your lights and wipers. Make sure all lights and windshield wipers are in proper working order, with enough of a blade to wipe the windshield fully without streaking.
  • Pull over if you feel unsafe driving. When the rain prevents you from fully controlling the vehicle, pull over and wait it out.

Driving tips for snow

Though some states — Alabama, Florida, Hawaii, Nevada and Oklahoma, to name a few — see little snow, 70% of the nation’s roadways see a minimum of five inches of snow per year, according to the FHWA. Here are some winter driving tips to keep you safe when driving in snow:

  • Check your tires to ensure proper air pressure. Most car manufacturers recommend increasing the air pressure by three to five psi, or pounds per square inch in the winter. The cold air prevents the tires from heating up as much and expanding, which can reduce tire traction.
  • Always keep your gas tank at least half full. Keeping your gas tank near full will ensure you have enough gas to make it your destination, even if you get stuck in traffic or have to wait for roadside assistance.
  • Cruise control is never good on slippery surfaces. Cruise control is best used in dry conditions only. When driving in snow, you want to stay focused and be able to slowly brake or accelerate as needed.
  • Leave enough room for braking. You should accelerate and brake slower on snowy and icy roads, so make sure you leave plenty of room to allow for slow braking to prevent sliding.
  • Double your following distance. A normal distance is three to four seconds from the car in front of you in dry conditions.
  • Know how to use your anti-lock brake system (ABS). An anti-lock brake system is made to improve safety, but you have to firmly push the brake pedal to the floor and hold it, not pump it like a car without ABS.
  • Avoid spinning out. When you take a turn or curve, brake before you enter a turn, not during it.
  • Obey warning signs. Bridges and overpasses often have “surface may be icy” signs. Approach them cautiously and heed their warnings.
  • Give snowplows a wide berth. Snowplow drivers often cannot see you, so give them about 200 feet to do their job and avoid trying to overtake them. It can also be dangerous to be near a snowplow that is actively plowing.

Hydroplaning

When you hydroplane, your tires lose connection with the road surface, and you lose control of your vehicle. You can hydroplane on any wet road surface in rain, ice or snow. The best thing to do is avoid hydroplaning and understand what to do if you find yourself in this situation.

How to avoid hydroplaning

The best way to prevent a hydroplaning accident is to avoid getting into the situation in the first place. Here are a few things you can do to limit your chances of hydroplaning:

  • Don’t use cruise control on slick roads: Cruise control may manage your speed, but it doesn’t manage your distance from other cars. Maintaining full control of the car during bad weather is always best to avoid hydroplaning.
  • Make sure your tires are in good condition and have enough tread for the roads: Tires that are properly inflated and with sufficient tread offer the most tire surface on the road, giving you more traction and control.
  • Replace your tires every six years at the latest: Old, worn-out tires lose tread and traction, increasing your chances of hydroplaning.
  • Get your tires rotated every six months: Properly rotated and balanced tires are key to wearing them down evenly, providing maximum rubber on the road.
  • Avoid driving through standing water: It is almost impossible to tell how deep water is on the road in front of you, and even a small amount of standing water can make your car lose traction.
  • Drive at a safe speed: The faster you go, the less control you have, the greater chances you will hydroplane and be unable to make it to your destination safely.

What to do if you are hydroplaning

Even if you do everything right, you can still hydroplane. If you ever hydroplane, take these steps to limit your risk of an accident:

  • Stay calm. Hydroplaning usually only lasts for a short time. Staying calm helps you regain control faster and monitor conditions more easily so you don’t hydroplane again.
  • Don’t hit the brakes. Sudden braking can actually cause your car to get more out of control. If you’re going too fast, lightly pump the brakes.
  • Don’t oversteer. Gently turn the wheel in the direction you are hydroplaning to realign the tires. Never turn it in the opposite direction as this could cause an even greater skid.
  • Gently lift off the gas. This will gradually lower your speed and help the tires regain traction on the road.

Driving and tornadoes

Driving during a nearby tornado can be extremely dangerous. Tornadoes can change direction quickly and throw debris into your car or path, making travel difficult. Turn down the radio and put your full attention on your surroundings and the road ahead.

Driving during a nearby tornado

If you find yourself driving near a tornado, avoid bridges and tunnels. Though you may think they offer protection, high winds can make these locations more dangerous than being in the open. Here are some more tips for driving during a nearby tornado:

  • Do not try to outrun the tornado. Tornadoes can create an illusion of moving slowly or even being stationary, when in reality, they are moving as fast as 60 mph or more. A tornado’s strength and damage field cannot be determined by size and shape alone.
  • Pull over and hide below the window level of your vehicle. This way, if debris breaks the glass, it won’t come flying directly at you.
  • Keep seatbelts fastened.
  • Cover your head with a blanket, cushion or your hands. Covering yourself could protect you from broken glass or debris.

For tornadoes in the distance

When a tornado is in the distance, you should have time to take precautions and get out of harm’s way. Remember they can move fast even if they don’t look like they’re moving at all, so it’s best to move quickly to get out of the way.

  • Drive away from the funnel of the tornado at a 90-degree angle from its path. 
  • Find shelter nearby and take cover inside if possible.
  • If there is no shelter nearby, pull over, exit the vehicle and take cover in a low-lying ditch. Make sure to cover your head and only exit if you can do so safely.

Conclusion

When bad weather is forecast, the best and safest choice will almost always be to stay inside until the storm passes. If you cannot avoid driving in bad weather, take extra precautions before and during your trip to stay safe. Check your tires, take extra clothes, blankets and snacks, avoid cruise control and keep your full attention on the road and your surroundings at all times. With the right preparation and precautions, you can arrive safely and limit your risk of an accident.

Written by
Mandy Sleight
Insurance Contributor
Mandy Sleight has been a licensed insurance agent since 2005. She has three years of experience writing for insurance websites such as Bankrate, MoneyGeek and The Simple Dollar. Mandy writes about auto, homeowners, renters, life insurance, disability and supplemental insurance products.
Edited by
Insurance Editor