Low Visibility Driving Techniques

Good vision is crucial for stopping your vehicle in time to avoid a collision. Unfortunately, you may encounter many low visibility driving situations, including fog, smoke, and dust storms (aka haboobs). So, what do you do when your vision becomes limited while driving? Below, you’ll learn techniques that will help you drive safely in each of these scenarios. 

Driving in Fog

According to the Department of Transportation, fog causes 38,700 vehicle crashes each year. Many of these collisions occur due to limited stopping distance. The stopping distance is the amount of space your car travels after you see a hazard, mentally react, put on the brakes, and your vehicle actually coming to a stop. 

It takes the average person 1-1.5 seconds to think, react, and apply the brakes. You can think about stopping time as the distance your car travels while you’re thinking, and then the distance it travels after you apply the brakes. Plus, the faster your vehicle is traveling, the more distance it will need to come to a complete stop. Check out this chart to see how many feet it takes to come to a stop, depending on how fast you're traveling:

In practice, this means that under good conditions, you would need about 230 feet to stop from a speed of 50 mph. Even when going 30 mph, you still travel about 43 feet after you hit the brakes. What does this tell us about vision requirements? You can't safely drive at 50 mph unless you can see hazards at least 230 feet ahead. Likewise, you aren't fit to drive at 30 mph if you can't see at least 109 feet ahead. And remember, this chart shows stopping distance with good road conditions, and wet, slick roads increase your stopping distance. So when it’s foggy, slow down, especially when fog is accompanied by rain or snow.

Also, remember to use your wipers, defroster, low beam headlights, and fog lights (if you have them.) Then, use the road markings of your lane to help guide your driving. It may also help to roll down your windows and turn off your music so you can hear other vehicles. It may be tempting to follow other vehicles' tail lights, but they may not be able to see either and could lead you astray. If you can only see the taillights of other vehicles, it's probably not safe to drive, and you should find a safe place to pull off the road. 

Driving in Smoke

According to the Insurance Information Institute, California, Texas, and Colorado are among the states at the highest risk of wildfires. If you live in one of these states, you’ll want to read on.

Many of the safety measures that apply to driving in fog also apply to driving in smoke. Your vision will be limited, so you’ll need to slow down and use your low beam headlights. One difference, however, is that you should not roll down your windows. This will allow smoke to enter your vehicle. It could also help to check your air conditioning settings and set them to recirculate the air instead of pulling smoky air from outside. However, if you do this and drive for a long time you’ll need to crack a window eventually to get some fresh air in.

It will also be critical to plan ahead. Check your local news and plan a driving route that avoids the fire. Wear long pants and long sleeves to protect your skin. Keeping a bandana in your car may also help you protect your nose and lungs from smoke in case you need to exit your car.

Driving in Haboob

First, you might be wondering what the definition of haboob is. A haboob is an intense dust storm, which is not something that has happened in the United States very often. However, according to science.org, dust storms are becoming stronger and more frequent across the Great Plains, which includes states like Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Kansas, and Colorado.

Dust storms are particularly dangerous to drive in, so if at all possible you should avoid going out. If you get caught in one, however, here’s what you should do.

If visibility permits, use your low beam headlights and road markings to travel slowly. However, it is likely that you won’t be able to see far enough ahead to drive. If that’s the case, use the road markings to pull off the road. Since other drivers will have severely limited vision, pull away as far as possible from the road and turn off your lights. Drivers may see your brake lights and think that they should follow you, which could lead to a collision. 

One more tip: After driving through a sandstorm or dust storm, you may need to change your oil, oil filter, and air filters as dirt particles from the storm can damage your engine.

It’s never too early to start planning for emergencies like low visibility driving. You can learn even more techniques by signing up for a drivers ed course with Aceable. Our online, self-paced courses make it easy to find time for learning in your busy day, so don’t wait – sign up today!

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