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6 Tips For Driving In Low-Visibility Conditions

By Jennifer Crump | Last updated: March 14, 2021
Key Takeaways

If you absolutely must venture out when fog, smoke, snow, or rain has reduced visibility, follow these tips to keep you and your passengers safe.

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Low visibility can be caused by fog, heavy rain or heavy snow. Dust, pollution and smoke can also reduce your visibility, as can driving at night or dusk. Low visibility can dramatically increase the crash risk for drivers. Almost 39,000 vehicle crashes occur every year due to fog alone, killing over 600 people and injuring an additional 16,000 on the road.

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The first rule of driving in low visibility is to avoid it. Drive only you have to, and if staying home is an option — do it! If you absolutely must venture out when fog, smoke, snow, or rain has reduced visibility, follow these tips to keep you and your passengers safe.

1. Reduce Your Speed

It’s critical to remember that speed limits are designed for optimal driving conditions. A good rule of thumb for night driving is to reduce your speed by 5 mph to 15 mph. For adverse conditions such as rain, reduce your speed by at least a third, and for snow, reduce it by half.

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The thicker the fog, smog or smoke, the slower you should go. Remember that you will be unable to see stopped cars, stoplights or other obstacles ahead, and you need to give yourself enough time to slow down or stop when necessary.

It’s also essential that you pay close attention to your speedometer as you will not be able to see other cars or objects that would generally help you gauge your speed.

2. Use Low Beam Headlights

Unfortunately, headlights are of little use in low visibility caused by fog or other weather events except as a mechanism for making you more visible to other travellers and helping you avoid collisions with those vehicles. High beams will not help you see better in low visibility created by fog and other weather-related issues. High beams can actually reduce your ability to see well by creating a glare as the light reflects off of water particles. Instead, use low-beam headlights. This will also cause your tail lights to come on, which will allow other vehicles to see you more easily. If your car is equipped with fog lights, use them.

3. Reduce Obstacles to Your Vision

When low visibility is a problem outside your vehicle, do everything you can to ensure you maintain peak visibility from inside the car. Clean your car’s windows inside and out before you go anywhere, and ensure your windshield washer fluid is filled up. Defrost and scrape all windows. Remove snow from the top and hood of the car so that it does not fall or blow onto your front window. Turn your defroster on and use your windshield wipers to ensure your front windshield is consistently clear.

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Reduce clutter and objects within your car that may obstruct your line of vision. Ensure you can see out all windows. Do not stack luggage and other cargo and lay hanging clothes on the back seat or hang behind the driver’s side in the rear if you absolutely must keep them hanging.

4. Know The Route

Always avoid setting out on an unfamiliar trip in periods of low visibility. Additionally, know that once you’re on the road, it will be difficult and sometimes impossible to follow the lines of traffic ahead of you. Instead, follow the lines of the road to ensure you stay in the right lane. White fog lines, the edge of the road and road signs can help you keep on the right track.

Unexpected hazards are the biggest issue with low visibility, so when behind the wheel you must expect the unexpected. Don’t assume other drivers will do what they should do and be mindful of other vehicles, both on the road and those pulled over. Watch carefully for pedestrians. Keep a reasonable distance between your car and those in front of you. In snow or rain, be prepared for the inevitable splashes of water onto your windshield and don’t let it startle or distract you.

5. Avoid Distractions

Distractions are not helpful for drivers in perfect conditions but avoid them altogether in times of low visibility. Turn the music off and ignore your cell phone. Ensure your attention is focused solely on your driving. Consider opening your window to listen for traffic if you are unable to see clearly.

6. Identify And Respond To Extremely Low Visibility Conditions

In dense fog or other conditions which reduce your visibility to near zero, put on your hazard lights and pull into the nearest parking lot or other safe space. If you are unable to find a safe parking space or parking lot to pull into, pull over on the side of the road as far as you can. Turn on your hazard lights and turn off all other lights. Put your emergency brake on and remove your foot from the brake pedal to ensure that your tail lights stay off. The idea here is to ensure that other drivers do not mistakenly follow your tail lights, believing you are still on the roadway and accidentally run into you. They should recognize hazard lights and know to not follow you.

Stay Off The Roads, If Possible

Declining to drive in times of low visibility is your best way to stay safe. However, being prepared and ensuring you do everything you can to maintain what little visibility you have can help keep you safe when staying home isn’t an option.

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Written by Jennifer Crump

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Jennifer Crump is a former freelance journalist and author and now full-time content writer and strategist. She contributes to magazines and blogs throughout North America on issues related to business, training, financing and workplace safety.


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