Everything You Need to Know About Bad Weather Driving

Winter DrivingAlabama typically has very mild winters, with temperatures rarely getting below freezing. It’s rare that we have snow or even freezing rain.

However, snowstorms can still happen in Alabama; in fact, one happened in January of this year. This freak storm left thousands of motorists throughout the Deep South—particularly in Georgia and Alabama—stranded on the highway for hours, unable to get home from work or pick up their children from school. Many people holed up in the cars for the night, while others walked miles to get home, simply abandoning their cars.

The gridlock was so bad in Atlanta that one woman, unable to reach a hospital, delivered her baby on the side of the road,. (Fortunately, her husband and a police officer were there to help her deliver.) Alabama’s Interstate 65 was littered was cars and semi-trucks that had been involved in accidents caused by the icy roads.

According to a Fox News article covering the situation, Alabama State Troopers identified five people killed and at least 23 injured in accidents attributable to the weather. In Georgia, 130 injuries and one death from more than 1,000 accidents were related to the weather.

This situation is extreme and doesn’t happen often, but it should serve as a warning to drivers in Alabama who aren’t prepared to travel in bad weather. Snow, ice, and freezing rain can strike at any time, so it’s important to always prepare for the worst.

At Martinson & Beason, P.C., we want drivers in our hometown of Huntsville and throughout Alabama to have the knowledge and tools necessary to help them stay safe on the road. This winter, we encourage you to keep the following tips in mind when driving in bad weather—whether it’s rain, snow, ice, or fog.

Driving in the Rain

  • Slow down. Speed limits are set under the best of conditions, which means that if you are following the speed limit in the rain, you’re going too fast. Slow down to reduce your chances of hydroplaning or losing control.
  • Check your windshield wipers. Make sure that your windshield wipers are in good condition. When they are turned on, the wipers should not leave streaks that inhibit your ability to see.
  • Turn on your headlights. When visibility is low, you should turn on your headlights. This applies not only in the evening but also when it is raining.
  • Turn off cruise control. Cruise control is handy when you want to stay at one speed, but it may actually cause you to lose control in less-than-ideal conditions, according to State Farm. You can’t release the accelerator to slow down when you’re using cruise control, and if you hydroplane, cruise control may actually make your car go faster.
  • Beware of hydroplaning. Hydroplaning occurs when your car has more traction on the water than on the road. This causes your car to slide. Unfortunately, hydroplaning is easy. You can slide out of control with just one-twelfth inch of water on the road. To avoid hydroplaning, slow down. If you do find yourself in this situation, stop pressing the accelerator and steer straight until you regain control.

Driving in the Snow

  • Drive slowly. Everything you do in the car should be done cautiously. Accelerate, decelerate, and brake slowly. Give yourself more time to stop, and maintain a following distance of eight to ten seconds.
  • Make sure your tires have grip in the snow. Whether you have snow or all-season tires, they should have at least 6/32 inch of tread: any less and your tires won’t have a good grip on the road. (For reference, most new tires usually have 10/32-inch of tread.) Because Alabama doesn’t get a lot of snow or ice, snow tires may not be necessary—but the tread is.
  • Take advantage of electronic stability control. ESC can really help you maintain control of your vehicle if you need to swerve or brake suddenly. However, remember that ESC won’t save you if you’re going too fast in a snowstorm or taking a corner too fast.
  • Learn how to catch a skid. Correcting a front-tire skid is fairly simple, according to Edmunds. Take your foot off of the accelerator, allowing the car to slow down, and keep your hands where they are on the wheel. Braking suddenly or jerking the steering wheel will only make the situation worse. A back-tire skid is more complicated, and Edmunds recommends taking a driving class.
  • Keep your gas tank half full. This can help you avoid a gas line freeze-up.
  • Don’t go out if you don’t have to. Check the weather reports ahead of time to see whether or not travel is a good idea. If you have any doubt, don’t go out.
  • Keep supplies on hand. You never know when you’ll be stranded, so it’s essential to keep emergency supplies. According to AAA, these include non-perishable food (such as granola bars, peanut butter, dried fruit, etc.), water, flashlight, rain poncho, trash bags, emergency radio, duct tape, knife, extra batteries, gloves, shovel, multi-purpose knife, maps, matches, and cash.

Driving on Ice

  • Drive with caution. Like snow, ice requires you to drive more slowly and cautiously. Leave more room between your car and the car in front of you, and don’t use cruise control. Watch for brake lights, fishtailing, and emergency flashers in front of you.
  • Watch out for black ice. Black ice is incredibly dangerous, as it’s nearly invisible and can catch drivers off their guard. You can find black ice by looking for spots on the road that are darker and duller than the rest, according to com. It typically forms on shaded areas of the road and bridges.
  • Avoid braking over ice. If you see that you are approaching a patch of ice, don’t wait to brake. Instead, brake ahead of time and steer in the direction you want the car to go.
  • Beware of bridges and overpasses. With cold air blowing above and below them, bridges and overpasses are generally the first to freeze and the last to melt. Even if the road up to the bridge looks fine, slow down: the bridge could still be covered in ice.

Driving in Fog

  • Turn on your low lights. Don’t turn on your high beams; the light will bounce off of the water vapor in the air and actually worsen your visibility.
  • Keep an eye on the speedometer. Drive at—or preferably below—the speed limit, and keep an eye on your speedometer. Insurance company esurance says that fog can make it seem as though you are driving slower than you actually are, because it obscures points of reference.
  • Use your windshield wipers and defroster. Both of these can help your visibility.
  • Don’t watch the taillights in front of you. It’s not a good idea to follow the car in front of you, as it’s likely just as lost in the fog as you. (You don’t want to follow the car into a ditch.) Instead, watch the painted lines in the middle of the road.
  • Wait to pass until the fog clears. As tempting as it can be to pass when you’re running late, you should never do so when it’s foggy. With visibility so low, traffic can seem to come out of nowhere.

We hope you never have the misfortune of getting into a car accident, whether bad weather or an irresponsible driver causes it. That’s why we encourage you to follow the tips above and prepare yourself for bad weather on the road.

If you are injured in an accident, please call the experienced Alabama car accident lawyers at our firm. We would be glad to answer your questions and let you know how we can help.

Photo Credit: OregonDOT via Compfight cc