There are few ways to get the adrenaline pumping—like hitting a slick patch on the road unexpectedly or seeing a darkly clothed pedestrian walking on the side of the street just as you go speeding past.
Road hazards can be everywhere and anywhere with very little warning, so you might feel like you can’t plan for them at all. The truth is, however, that by educating yourself about road hazards and how to act when you encounter them, you will have a greater chance of driving away unscathed. Below is a list of things to watch for as you drive and how to prevent or correct them.
Whatever the Weather
Ah, Mother Nature. Her curveballs can be some of the most damaging for drivers everywhere, but you can prevent accidents to some degree by being prepared.
- BLACK ICE coats the road anytime water, mist, or fog freezes directly on a road that is already at or below 32° Fahrenheit. Its name is a bit of a misnomer because it’s actually clear, but it looks black because the road below shows right through it. Your best technique for driving on black ice is to prepare for it when you know conditions are ripe: drive slowly and keep your distance from other vehicles. Keep your eyes peeled as you drive, and look for signs that other drivers are sliding on the road. If you start sliding yourself, DO NOT HIT YOUR BRAKES. Take your foot off the gas and the brake, and only make slight corrections until you get to a point where you stop sliding. This can be a scary experience, so if you need to pull over when the road is clear to regroup, please do so.
- FLOODING can happen with or without warning depending on the current weather and drought conditions. Your best measure to combat flooding while you’re driving is to not drive through it at all. Turn around! Don’t drown! Even just a few inches of water is enough to carry away your vehicle. If you encounter flood water, stop, call for help, and wait for it to pass or help to arrive.
- FOG can be exceptionally difficult to drive through because your visiblity is so limited. If you hit a patch of fog, roll down your window so that you can hear better and drive slowly. Give yourself a lot of extra space between you and other vehicles, and do not stop in the middle of the road for any reason. If you have fog lights on your car, turn them on, but do not use your brights because they will reflect off of the fog back into your eyes.
- RAIN can be heaven-sent in times of drought, but that’s also the time to be most wary of the roads. When the roads have been dry for a long time, oil, dirt, and other grime can get baked onto the asphalt. When you introduce water to this mix, the roads can turn slimy and slick in a matter of minutes. Drive slowly during rain, turn on your headlights, and give yourself a lot of space between other cars. If you start to slide, road experts suggest taking your foot off the brake and accelerator, and using small corrections to guide you to a safe spot down the road.
The Problem with People
People can be so unpredictable that it seems impossible to plan for them on the road, but by using common sense, being cautious, and driving defensively, you can be as prepared as possible.
- FATIGUED driving is as dangerous as intoxicated driving. When you’re really tired, you can experience some of the same dreamy, vague, and slow reaction times as people do when they’re driving while buzzed. If you feel like you’re getting to the point that you’re nodding off or can’t concentrate on the road, pull over to a safe place and rest for a few minutes. Giving yourself some time will help you and others on the road get to your destinations safely.
- PEDESTRIANS have a bad rap on the road because, well, sometimes they don’t think about how their actions can affect drivers. Children are especially bad in this regard because they don’t fully comprehend how dangerous vehicles can be on the roads. If you see pedestrians, your best line of defense is to slow down and drive cautiously. In other words, hope for the best from them, but expect the worst.
- CYCLISTS, both motorcyclists and bicyclists, have such a small profile on the road that they can be nearly invisible. Inexperienced or uneducated cyclists can exacerbate the problem if they drive recklessly or aggressively down the road. Double check your blind spots for cyclists when making turns or changing lanes, and give them a wide berth whenever you are driving next to them. They have the same rights as other vehicles on the road, so give them the same courtesy and space as you do larger cars or trucks.
- KIDS. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em. In the car, crying babies and fussy children can be a major distraction for any driver – experienced or otherwise. Don’t reach back and try to console a child who is upset; instead, pull over to a safe place and solve the problem when you are at a complete stop. Try to prevent problems caused by boredom by packing appropriate games, snacks, and activities for longer trips.
Circumstances Outside Your Control
Some road hazards are outside of your control but can be just as dangerous as those you can anticipate.
- ROAD DEBRIS can be caused by weather, insufficient lashing, and car malfunctions. If you see debris in the road in advance, slow down and change lanes. Try to avoid swerving at all costs as that can send you headfirst into oncoming traffic or off the roads. If you can’t go around it, turn on your hazards, pull over, and call emergency services to help remove the obstacle.
- ANIMALS can pose a huge risk to drivers because they often come out during times of low visibility. The number one rule where animals are concerned is not to swerve. Swerving confuses the animal so that it doesn’t know which way to run. For large animals, apply the brake. Remember, however, that as sad as it is, if you can’t brake fast enough for small animals, it’s better to hit the animal than to swerve into another car. You can’t always avoid hitting an animal while driving, but you can be alert to dangers of approaching animals so that you will be prepared to react quickly. This is especially applicable in agricultural areas or on rural roads at night or at dawn. Drive slower during these times, and use your high-beams if there are no other drivers present.
You probably noticed the recurring themes throughout this article, namely: don’t swerve, go the speed limit, give yourself space, and use common sense. You might be drowsy or on a deadline or distracted, but those excuses won’t carry any weight in the event of a deadly accident.