Spring Brings Deadly Driving Conditions

April 8, 2013

Truckers may breathe a sigh of relief as rugged winter weather bringing ice, sleet, freezing rain, wind, snow and blizzards ebbs with the coming of Spring. But with the transition from foul winter storms to milder Spring climes comes perhaps the deadliest road hazard of them all, fog.

The hazards of fog, poor visibility and driving were most recently made clear on Easter Sunday three were killed and dozens injured when nearly 100 vehicles crashed in a series of chain-reaction accidents along a mountainous, foggy stretch of Interstate 77 near the Virginia-North Carolina border. Perhaps the most horrific traffic accidents in recent history were attributed to poor visibility due to fog, smoke, or a mixture of the two.

  • Thick Texas fog played into the massive 140-car pileup on Interstate 10 last Thanksgiving in Texas that killed 2 people and injured 80.
  • At least 54 people were injured and more than 79 vehicles were damaged in a string of 22 chain-reaction pileups on Highway 73 near Beaumont in Jefferson County Texas earlier this year. Officials said zero visibility in the area because of fog and smoke from marsh wildfires led to the accident.
  • Smoke from a brush fire combined with fog blinded motorists and caused long line of trucks and cars to collide last year on Interstate 75 south of Gainesville, FL, killing 10. The visibility was so poor when rescuers arrived, they could only listen for screams and moans to find victims in wreckage that was strewn for nearly a mile.
  • In January 2008, four people were killed and 38 injured in a series of similar crashes caused by fog on Interstate 4 between Orlando and Tampa. More than 70 vehicles were involved in those crashes, including one pileup that involved 40 vehicles.
  • A combination of fog and smoke from a nearby fireworks display was the cause of a 34-vehicle crash in 2011 that left seven dead and more than 51 injured in a what was called the worst traffic accident in the United Kingdom in the last 20 years.

This Spring, fog is causing state highway officials to be alert to the dangers. Just last week, the Florida Highway Patrol closed a section of Interstate 75 for several nights due to poor visibility caused by smoke and fog. State highway officials in Northern California issued press releases warning motorists of fog danger. But the dangers of fog are mostly unpredictable. Unlike blizzards, sleet and snow that meteorologists can predict sometimes days in advance, poor visibility from fog and smoke can occur in an instant, with no prior warning. Even when highway officials are alert to a problem, motorists may not be made aware until it's too late. In the Easter crash, signs alerting motorists of the dangers of poor visibility were active, but highway officials say motorists either couldn't see the signs or ignored the warnings and attributed the crashes to drivers traveling too fast for conditions. An investigation following the deadly Gainesville Florida crash found that the state lacks a coherent policy for troopers to use to determine when and how to close a highway because of poor visibility and how to reopen it. A report by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement indicated this is a national problem. A poll of national and state traffic authorities found that most of the U.S. state highway departments lack specific policies regarding closing and reopening roads due to poor visibility. Thus is the treacherous nature of fog. It comes quickly, without warning and if you don't know how to adjust, it can lead to a deadly debacle. Following are tips from Baldwin & Lyons Inc., Indianapolis, IN; the National Safety Council, the Tennessee Department of Transportation; and the The Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers' Compensation.on ways to cope with the sudden onset of zero visibility caused by fog and smoke:

  • Slow down and do not drive faster than your vision.
  • Be cautious, fog can become thicker without warning and without being noticed until it is too late to react.
  • Increase following distance to ensure enough reaction time and stopping distance.
  • Turn on all your lights-including your hazard lights. Use low beam headlights and fog lights. Do not use high beams.
  • Turn on your 4-way flashers to give vehicles approaching from behind a better opportunity to see and notice your vehicle.
  • Use windshield wipers and defroster as necessary to maximize visibility.
  • Be ready for emergency stops by other vehicles.
  • If possible, drive in a "pocket" where no other vehicles are around you.
  • Turn off your cruise control so you are in control of your vehicle.
  • Use the right edge of the road or roadside reflectors as a guide.
  • Listen for traffic you can't see.
  • Do not change lanes or pass other vehicles, unless absolutely necessary.
  • Remember that other drivers have limited sight distance and that fog makes the road wet.
  • Signal early, and when you use your brakes, don't stomp on them.
  • Watch out for slow-moving and parked vehicles.
  • If you cannot see, pull completely off the road preferably at a rest area or truck stop.
  • If you pull off the road, turn on your hazard flashers immediately.
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