I’ve posted a few threads on the forums recently as we’ve had some really poor weather here in the Great White North as of late. Blizzards, heavy snow, icy roads, we’ve been through it all in the last few weeks. Fog, heavy rain, snow, sleet, hail, strong winds, bad weather for driving comes in all forms…and it comes on when we’re out on the road. There’s a common problem many of us Canadians, and those in the Northern USA see every year – people seem to forget all of the winter driving skills they used last year. The first bit of bad weather brings oodles of fender benders and serious collisions alike.
What to do – continue on or pull over? Stay home or make the trip we planned? These are decisions we each have to make at the time.
The simple answer is I can’t tell you to go or stay home. I can tell you a few tips to use if you do venture out on the roads when the weather is bad however.
Slow Down. This is the biggest one. The physics of driving in bad weather revolves around the reduced “coefficient of friction”the tires are able to produce. Coefficient of friction, in my world represented by the Greek letter µ (pronounced “mew”). This is a numerical value that represents the amount of force the tires are able to generate as a percentage of gravity. For example, an average car on dry asphalt might be able to generate a µ of 0.70. One on ice may be µ = 0.35. What that means in the real world is that your distance required to stop from any given speed has just doubled.
Leave more space when following another vehicle. Common sense right? If your stopping distance has doubled, so should your following distance. More space gives you more time to react, and more of a chance of avoiding something disastrous. I’ll go out on a limb and say that a huge majority (maybe like 90%) of people driving on an average urban freeway are following too close everyday they drive. Anyone remember what your driver training said to use as a following distance? I didn’t think so 🙂 It’s actually 3 seconds in ideal conditions. I’d suggest RVers use 4 seconds due to the increased weight we haul around when we travel. The way to measure this is as follows:
- Watch the vehicle in front of you pass a reference object. This can be a mark on the road, a light post, a shadow, almost anything.
- Count in the following manner: “One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three…”
- When you reach three, you should just be passing the reference mark.
- If you reach it before you reach three, you’re too close.
For less than ideal conditions, the distance should be increased.
I’ve seen 60, 70, 80 car pile-ups on the news recently. People driving too fast when they can’t see. They are out driving their ability to see. The typical following distance we all see of 3, 2, or even 1 car-length behind another vehicle is a collision waiting to happen. Sure 99.9% of the time, that guy in front will keep moving right along, but at that moment he/she has to brake suddenly, the best driver in the world won’t be able to slow in time to avoid a collision. I’ve spoken before about the perception/reaction time in the blog called “STOP” (http://blog.rv.net/2008/01/21/stop/). The math shows that the vehicle following will not even have a chance to slow before the collision.
There is a little known theory that poor visibility actually causes some drivers to speed up instead of slowing. The theory goes that poor visibility removes the normal visual cues we all use to judge our speed (excluding the speedometer of course), and speeds creep up.
Keep your vehicles lights clean. These are the biggest safety features on your vehicle in poor weather. Being able to see and being seen are the best things you can achieve. Don’t let road spray, snow or frost build up on your headlights or tail lights. If you’re having to clean your windshield often, your light lenses are also getting just as dirty. The engineers that design the lamps on your vehicle/RV have to meet certain visibility and light output specifications, and when the lenses are dirty, they no longer function as they should.
Keep your lamps the factory color. Aftermarket tail lights, tail light covers, tinted headlight covers, and other commonly sold dress-up accessories seem harmless, but they can dramatically reduce light output. Other drivers can also be confused when they see green tail lights for example in a snow storm. I know RVers aren’t big into this, but you may have kids that are. LED tail lights are great. They react fast to the brake pedal, and they are bright and the right color, but they drawback they have is that they don’t create heat. The tail lights on a tractor/trailer would normally melt snow due to the heat they produce, now they get covered with snow and stay that way. If you have LED tail lights, you’ll have to be more diligent at cleaning them.
If you do have to pull over and stop due to poor driving conditions, pull way off the road, not just over to the shoulder. It is best to get to an intersection or side road, and get well off the road. You would not want to be struck by a vehicle that may wander onto the shoulder.
I know some may disagree, but I say you should not drive with your hazard lights on in poor weather. To me – hazard lights are for a stopped vehicle, or to use if you have to crawl up a hill in good weather. It may confuse some drivers.
If you don’t have to be out in poor weather, stay home. If you must travel, for your sake and mine, do it carefully.
One more thing, if your State or Province does not have a law that says you have to slow down when passing an emergency vehicle on the side of the road with its flashing emergency lights in operation, do it anyway. Those of us that have to stand on the side of the road as cars whiz by appreciate the ones that slow down and move over. 🙂
See you next week, comments welcome!