Low visibility can be caused by many factors, including snow, fog, rain, dust, and smoke. The best advice is to wait out these conditions and decide to drive at another time, if possible. If not, then the first defensive driving technique is to slow down. Posted speed limits are for good driving conditions, so don’t think that a posted limit is a safe speed in low visibility.
You should also think about seeing and being seen. Turn on your headlights or running lights (low beams only for fog as high beams make visibility worse); make sure your headlights are clean and clear of ice or snow; make sure your windshield is clean, you have good wiper blades, and you have plenty of windshield wiper fluid (rated for the cold so it won’t freeze up). If necessary, get familiar with the placement of the vehicles controls so that you don’t have to frantically search for them when they’re needed.
Plan and make certain that the vehicle you are operating has good tires with proper tread and inflation, do not multitask while driving, and as in all driving situations, always wear your seatbelt.
Night Driving and Icy Roads
Many of the low visibility tips should be adopted while driving at night, including avoiding the hazard whenever possible. You should also consider the road conditions that could change because it is now dark. Did the temperature drop to near or below freezing?
When driving on potentially icy roads, consider the following
- Bridges and overpasses typically freeze first. Factors, such as windchill, can make it more dangerous than you might initially think. When the outside temperature reads 38 degrees or below, drive as if there could be ice at any time.
- Slow down! Don’t use cruise control. Use the brake and accelerator carefully and give yourself plenty of space and time to brake. In these kinds of conditions, increase your following distance from a three-second reaction time to a four-/five-second reaction time behind the vehicle in front of you.
- Make sure your headlights (low beams) are on when vehicles are coming toward you in the opposite lane and not your brights. A blinded fellow driver is not a safe driver. Use high beams at times when vehicles are not coming toward you, but don’t let high beams give a false sense that you can drive at higher speeds.
Debris and Potholes
There are many reasons that drivers should focus on the task at hand (driving) and not attempt to multitask. Two of these reasons, specifically, are the potential for debris in the roads and the inevitable encounter with potholes. Debris and potholes can not only damage your vehicle but could cause you to lose control and get in an accident, resulting in injury or death.
Conditions can change very quickly, and vehicles can move very rapidly down the road. For example, 60 mph is about 88 feet per second and if a driver is multitasking, or otherwise not paying attention, they can find themselves in big trouble in a very short time. As a result, drivers should always observe the road and surroundings and practice the “what if” strategy. The “what if” strategy means that you always picture a way out when something goes wrong. What if that driver in front of me suddenly loses that load on their trailer? What if there is suddenly debris in my lane? Is the lane next to me open to move over quickly? Have I been glancing in my rear-view mirrors to check on this regularly and practicing “driving alone” (maintaining a good space all around your vehicle whenever possible)?
Also, don’t be part of the problem for other drivers. Make certain that any loads that you haul are properly tied down and secured. As with all defensive driving techniques, drive at a safe speed, maintain a safe following distance, and always wear your seatbelt.
Planning and Training
Motor vehicle accidents are a leading cause of work-related fatalities. To prevent this in your workplace, hold regularly scheduled safety training meetings to address defensive driving and avoiding motor vehicle accidents for employees who operate company vehicles and anyone who drives their own vehicle on company time. Include ways for employees to train their brains to do the safe thing without thinking about it. (Ex: If a person is driving past their exit, just drive to the next exit instead of trying to turn the steering wheel hard and make the exit.) Training employees to think about this, and picture themselves doing this safely instead of instinctively reacting and pulling the steering wheel, will hopefully save them from a bad maneuver and potential motor vehicle accident.
Make sure to document the training, the covered topics, and have employees sign that they attended. Training employees in safe driving techniques should be done at least annually or more often following any incidents, near-misses, or when employees demonstrate unsafe techniques or behaviors. Keep safety training records on file for at least three years.