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What to do when you’re driving in bad weather

by Arrive Alive, NGO
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In South Africa, we are accustomed to driving in beautiful sunny weather most of the time. But as we approach the summer rain seasons, we provide insights and advice on how to drive in adverse weather. There are several detailed discussions on specific weather conditions on the Arrive Alive website. Here, we discuss some of the general techniques for safe driving in most of these challenging conditions.

Adverse weather conditions and unique challenges on the road

Adverse weather conditions can be described as those conditions brought about by changes in weather requiring the driver to exercise special caution and adjust his normal driving behaviour. These conditions tend to reduce the visibility of the driver, as well as their ability to safely steer or apply brakes to the vehicle.

Adverse weather conditions include driving in:

  • Rain
  • Flooding
  • Snow
  • Fog and mist
  • Hail storms
  • Smoke from veld and forest fire
  • Strong winds
  • Extreme cold and hot weather
  • Driving toward the sun from sunrise to sunset

“For those who need to be on the road, it is essential to plan ahead for the drive!”

We need to recognise that these conditions may present rather unique challenges to the driver. These would include:

  • Reduced visibility
  • Reduced steering ability
  • Reduced traction
  • Increased time and space required to bring the vehicle to a stop.

Extreme weather requires special skills from the driver to be safe on the road:

  • Wet road surfaces can cause tyres to hydroplane (skim on a thin layer of water).
  • Wind creates additional problems for drivers as it reduces steering control.
  • It can be especially dangerous for recreational vehicles and vehicles towing trailers.
  • High-sided vehicles and motorcyclists are particularly vulnerable to strong winds.
  • Crosswinds may cause the car to swerve, especially SUVs and vans.
  • Sudden gusts of wind may present a unique risk as you cross a culvert or bridge, or drive through mountain passes and ravines.
  • You may also encounter a small gust when being passed by a large truck or bus.

The rather unique challenges are not only having an effect on your own steering and ability to control the vehicle, but also on your awareness with regards to other road users and objects:

  • A driver needs to take special care when driving behind goods vehicles as they generate a considerable amount of spray, which reduces your visibility. It is best to hold back until you can see their mirrors.
  • Adverse weather and strong winds may increase the chances of falling/fallen debris on the road and vehicles veering across the road to avoid such debris.
  • Surface water may contain hidden objects that could cause you to stall or damage your tyres.
  • Increased awareness is required of vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists and the need to allow extra space.
  • They too may be trying to avoid the mud and slippery side of the road.
  • It is best to avoid moving off the road under trees that might fall on your vehicle.
  • Also remain alert to animals at the roadside where fences may be down.
  • Adverse weather conditions may cause power lines to go down next to and on the roads – be alert and avoid downed power lines.
  • Smoke from forest or brush fires can be dangerous pose a threat to drivers as they can occur suddenly, without warning, and drastically reduce visibility.
  • Clouds of sand can also significantly reduce visibility.
  • Some drivers may not be using the headlights as is required by law. Rather avoid overtaking in conditions of poor visibility.

Aspects to consider before driving in bad weather

Most of us not caught off-guard by sudden changes in weather have the option whether to confront these challenging driving conditions or rather to avoid them. The best way to be safe in extremely bad weather is to avoid driving at all.

Aspects to consider before driving in bad weather

Even for the experienced driver with the best vehicle, the best way to avoid an accident or problem on the road in stormy weather is just to stay at home and wait for the weather to improve. If possible, it is best to postpone a trip and stay home rather than drive if there is an extreme weather system moving through your area.

For those who need to be on the road, it is essential to plan ahead for the drive! Driving in bad weather usually takes longer and is more stressful. Not allowing enough time to reach the destination will increase your stress level and could adversely affect your driving. By planning ahead for the bad weather and the problems it may throw at you, you will be better prepared to handle unfortunate situations if they do happen to you.

The original version of this article can be found on the website of our partner, Arrive Alive.

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