Safe driving tips for rain and fog

AAA is offering motorists pointers to travel safely and defensively in poor visibility.

"Motorists should plan extra time and monitor their speedometer while making their commute or trip because speeding, or even driving at or near the speed limit in foggy conditions is unsafe," said Steve Mazor, manager of AAA’s Automotive Research Center in Diamond Bar, California. "It’s a lot more difficult to see vehicles and to judge the speed of vehicles you can see. Reduced visibility and slick surfaces mean that motorists will need to modify their normal weather driving habits."

AAA recommends the following for safer driving in rainy or foggy conditions:

  • Slow down: Motorists should drive slowly, particularly through puddles. Hitting several inches of water at high speeds can cause a driver to lose control of the car. Fast driving through puddles may also push or splash water into the engine and cause it to stall. Driving at slower speeds also helps drivers be prepared for sudden stops due to disabled cars, debris, and other hazards associated with wet-weather driving. Fog creates visual conditions that fool the driver into driving faster or slower, so slow down to a reasonable and legal speed and use your speedometer to gauge it. Multi-vehicle collisions occur because drivers are going too fast.
  • Keep your distance: A car needs two to three times more stopping distance on wet pavement, so allow extra following distance between cars. If the car skids and control is lost, do not slam on the brakes. Instead apply the brakes with a steady, light but firm pressure. Remember to steer in the direction the car is sliding. When traction is regained, steering control will return. For cars equipped with anti-lock brakes, drivers should apply heavy steady pressure, but not pump the brakes.
  • Use the center lanes: When driving during heavy rain, use center lanes of the road (without straddling the yellow line). Avoid outside lanes where water collects at curbside.
  • Avoid distractions: Motorists are advised to minimize eating, drinking, cellular phone use, or tuning the stereo, particularly in the rain. If it's necessary to engage in these activities, pull over and stop in a safe place.
  • Stay informed: Tune into radio and television weather reports to know where flood warning areas or traffic congestion might be located. If possible, avoid these areas.
  • Park in a closed garage: This reduces condensation and moisture on vehicle windows.
  • Defrost first: Before turning on the defroster, allow the engine to warm up. Turn the heat control on and if the vehicle’s windshield begins to get cloudy, open the side window slightly and turn the defroster to a higher speed. If you have an air conditioner, use it briefly to help clear the windows.
  • Drive with lights on low beam: High beams will reflect off the fog, creating a "white wall" effect. If your car has fog lights, be sure to use them.
  • Partially open the driver’s side window: Listen for traffic you can’t see and anticipate problems.
  • Drive cautiously: Avoid passing other vehicles and changing lanes, if possible.
  • If stalled or a crash occurs: Attempt to exit the freeway or pull onto the shoulder and turn off lights so other motorists don’t mistakenly drive into you.

Car maintenance:

  • Make sure windshield wiper blades are in good condition: Streaks or skipping on the vehicle's windshield are signs of worn wiper blades. Inspect wipers once a month and check washer solvent reservoir to ensure it's full. Many crashes occur because motorists can’t see out of smeared windshields.
  • Keep headlights and taillights working and lenses clean: This vehicle equipment is critical to help you see and be seen by other drivers in normal driving conditions, and more so in foggy and rainy conditions.
  • Check brakes periodically: After driving through a puddle, ensure that brakes are working properly by tapping them gently a few times.
  • Use windshield defroster: Driving in the rain means reduced visibility. Turning on the defroster helps keep the inside of the windshield clear of moisture.
  • Check tires: Make sure tires are in good condition and are at the recommended inflation level. Driving with bald tires on a slippery surface is a major factor in skidding. Tires should have at least 1/32nd of an inch tread depth at any two adjacent grooves, the minimum allowable by law. Driving on tires that are over inflated or under-inflated is also extremely dangerous on wet pavement.