Thousands of car accidents occur each day in the U.S. as a result of various circumstances and weather conditions. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2010, 32,885 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in the United States; that’s approximately, on average, 100 people per day. The weather often controls and challenges the way we drive, putting ourselves and others at risk for a car accident. Even on seemingly perfect days, we, as drivers, are often challenged by the sun as it can be an obstacle for the good and unobstructed vision needed while driving. More often than not, bad weather highway accidents occur during rain or snow, when the road conditions become challenging and the visibility is poor.
How to Drive Safely When the Weather Turns Nasty
Summer and winter can be the most difficult times to drive as the weather is unpredictable and often temperamental. In the summer time, drivers worry about driving safely through rain storms that can produce tornado like conditions. In the winter time, in states where snow is prevalent during winter months, drivers struggle through blizzard like conditions and icy roadways. Bad weather makes many drivers nervous, wishing they could stay off the roads until better weather, but for many drivers staying at home is not an option. As we know, life is not put on hold when the weather gets tough! Many drivers have a legitimate fear of driving in bad weather. While it is, in fact, a nerve wracking experience, many drivers need to overcome their fears by taking their time and focus on their driving, trying to keep a panic attack at bay. Whether you are driving in the summer or winter, there are things to remember and consider to keep you safe while driving in poor weather conditions.
For many, this is the ultimate time for leisurely drives. Windows rolled down, feeling the warm breeze, listening to the sounds of grasshoppers at dusk, watching the sunset as you drive towards the horizon. For others, summer is the ultimate nightmare time for driving with unpredictable weather and the possibility of a torrential rainstorm. Nobody likes to deal with a downpour during rush hour!
- Thunderstorms can happen without notice, creating chaos and poor visibility on the roadways. If possible, try to check the weather before you head out so you know what to expect. Some cars have weather band radios which can be particularly helpful during commutes or on long road trips. If you are caught in a rainstorm, try to relax. If the visibility is too poor to see the vehicles in front or around you, pull over to safety, put on your hazards, and try to wait until the rain passes.
- When it rains, hydroplaning (when your tires lose contact with the road and “floats” on water) can occur. According to the National Safety Council, hydroplaning occurs most often during heavy bouts of rain and can be corrected safely through control and slowing down (but don’t slam on the brakes).
- In the event of Flash Flooding, the driver should know the depth over water before attempting to crossing. A road under water is often unstable and flash flooding can cause water to rise at a dangerously fast rate. If possible, driving during a flash flood should be avoided.
- Tornadoes may be one of the scariest weather phenomena to observe while driving. Many drivers try to out drive a tornado, but this should never be attempted. Even the most trained weather spotters have lost their lives due to driving during a tornado. If a tornado is near, leave your vehicle and find shelter or go to the lowest ground such as a ditch, culvert or ravine.
Winter Driving can be a pain. It’s hard enough, some days, to get the car started, warm it up and make sure the driveway is shoveled out so you can get to work. If a substantial amount of snow has fallen, it is best to wait (if possible) for the roads to be plowed and or sanded/salted. Many highway departments will urge drivers to stay off the roads in many cases, as driving during a blizzard can cause numerous issues such as accidents, cars being stuck or sliding off of the road.
- When driving on ice, take your time. Even seemingly “dry” patches of road can be icy. Driving too fast can send your car out of control and spinning into another car or into a ditch.
- Brake lightly and if your car struggles to stop, tap the brake lightly, never slam them down.
- If you become stranded, make sure you have a winter emergency kit in your car. It’s best to stay in your car with your hazards flashing, and only run your car in short increments if you know that the tailpipe is free from snow. Stay warm and hydrated.
Regardless of the weather, snow or rain, it’s vital to take your time and keep distance between you and the car in front of you. Poor weather conditions make for poor road conditions. If you need to stop quickly, you will need more room to do so safely. Always make sure your tires are in good working order (good tread) and the air pressure is correct. Use your headlights and windshield wipers to improve your visibility. It’s important that you can see and be seen during inclement weather.
If you have some place to go, in the rain or snow, it is important to use common sense and be confident in your driving (but not too confident). Don’t let the poor conditions control your driving. Stay safe and accident free!