Driving on the highway in bad weather

Road safety

Driving in bad weather: Staying safe on the road

Bad weather can strike at any time during any season. And you might just be on the road when that happens. According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), roughly 21% of vehicle crashes are weather related. The leading weather-related events to cause an accident were, in order of most dangerous: wet pavement, rain, snow/sleet, icy pavement, snow/slushy pavement, and fog. Wet pavement accounts for an astonishing 70% of weather-related car accidents. Regardless of the type of weather, there are a few basic safety measures you can take to ensure you get to your destination safely:

  • Avoid tailgating. On the highway, maintain about 300 feet of distance between you and the car ahead of you. This gives you room to stop in case the driver brakes suddenly. 
  • Go slower. It’s best to reduce your speed by about 10 miles per hour below the speed limit so you are more able to react quickly to anything that happens ahead of you as a result of the weather.
  • Give yourself plenty of time. You never know what you’ll encounter on the roads when the weather is bad. You want to ensure your drive is smooth and stress free. Allow yourself more time than usual to get to your destination.

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What is the most dangerous weather to drive in?

Considering that wet pavement accounts for the majority of weather-related road accidents, it should come as no surprise that rain is the most dangerous weather to drive in. When rain starts to fall, the roads can quickly turn slick. Not to mention that rain is a visual impairment to drivers as well. If at all possible, it’s best to postpone your drive until the rain has stopped. If you have to drive during rain, here are some tips to keep you safe:

  • Turn on your lights. Not only will lights help you see better in the rain, but other cars will be able to see you better as well.
  • Turn on your windshield wipers: Windshield wipers will help keep your windshield clear of rain, allowing you to see what’s in front of you.
  • Turn off cruise control. You need to be in full control of your vehicle during wet weather. Small speed adjustments may need to be made, and you cannot do that if cruise control is engaged.
  • Keep your tires maintained. Tires need to be well inflated and have deep thread to provide the traction needed to prevent hydroplaning on wet roads.
  • Avoid braking hard. Give yourself plenty of room to slow down by allowing as much space as possible between you and the vehicle in front of you. Applying the brakes too hard may cause your car to skid.
  • Defog those windshields. Rain can cause your windshields to quickly fog up, making it hard to see. Turn on your front and rear defrosters to keep your windows clear.
  • Turn around, don’t drown. If you see water on the road, don’t drive into it. It only takes 12 inches of rushing water to carry away most cars.

And don’t forget the rules for driving in any kind of bad weather – leave plenty of space between you and the car in front of you, slow down, and allow plenty of time for your trip.

Is it safe to drive in the snow?

Driving in the snow can be tricky, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. A lot of the tips from driving in rain also apply to driving in the snow such as turning on your headlights, not slamming on the brakes, and keeping your tires maintained. Some additional things you might want to consider before you head out in the snow are taking blankets, keeping your gas tank at least half full, and ensuring all snow is cleared from the car before you start driving. If you have young children, don’t forget to remove any jackets before placing them in their car seats to ensure a proper and safe fit of the car seat.

Surprisingly, a thin layer of snow can be more dangerous for driving than a thicker layer because less snow melts more quickly and can easily refreeze into ice. If you find yourself sliding on ice while driving, stay calm. Do not hit your brakes. Turn your vehicle into the slide (the same direction the back of your car is sliding) to try and keep it as straight as possible.

You should also be on the lookout for black ice. While difficult to spot, your headlights should work to reflect this dangerous ice at night. It usually forms on bridges, in the shadows of buildings, and at crossroads, where snow or rainwater drains.

If you do wind up stopped because of snow, stay with your car. Use the blankets you brought to keep warm and try to avoid running the car for extended periods. If you must run the car to keep warm, periodically check and clear the exhaust pipe of snow.

Read more about one mom’s perspective and advice for driving in the snow.

What other extreme weather could affect my driving?

While rain and snow are two top weather concerns for drivers, there are other weather conditions that drivers should also consider.

Fog

Fog can make it very difficult for drivers to see and has been known to cause multi-car pile-ups. Every year, fog causes more than 38,700 car crashes, according to the FHWA. To stay safe while driving in fog, you should use low beam headlights, not high beams, use the lines on the road to help you stay in your lane, and avoid passing other motorists. If the fog reduces visibility enough that you feel driving is unsafe, pull completely off the road on the right-hand side and wait for it to subside.

High temperatures

People usually think of winter conditions when they think of adverse weather and driving, but the heat can affect your driving too. For instance, heat can significantly affect your car’s battery. Keep this in mind and test your battery routinely, especially during the summer months. You should also make sure your car’s coolant level isn’t too low to prevent your engine from overheating and your A/C is in good working condition. We also recommend that you make sure your windshield is clean before setting off in the sun. The sun’s glare can reflect off a dirty windshield, making it very difficult for the driver to see.

Bring enough water for everyone in the car. If for some reason the car breaks down or you have to make an unscheduled stop, the water will be important to keep everyone hydrated. And never leave a child or animal unattended in the car. This rule applies no matter the temperature, but it is especially important in high temperatures when the interior of the car can quickly reach 130 degrees or more.

Tornadoes 

You may get caught on the road during a storm that is capable of producing a tornado. If at all possible, get off the road and into a nearby building for shelter. If you have no other option and the tornado is imminent, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association recommends keeping your seatbelt on and ducking your head below window level, covering it with either your hands or a blanket. If there is an area nearby such as a ditch that is significantly lower than the road, exit the vehicle and lie facedown in that area, covering your head with your hands or a blanket. If you see the tornado in the distance but are unable to find shelter, you may be able to avoid it by driving at a right angle to the tornado. Never stop in a tunnel or under an overpass or seek shelter in a mobile home. If you are at home and a tornado watch or warning is issued, do not get on the road.

Stay safe – Check the weather

Weather can sometimes be unpredictable, but checking the forecast before you get on the road can go a long way in keeping you safe. Use your favorite app, tune in to your local news station, or check out the National Weather Service for up-to-date weather information. If you do wind up driving in bad weather, don’t forget to take it slow and don’t follow the car in front of you too closely.