There are many precautions drivers need to take when bad weather rolls into town, and we all know them well: turn the headlights on, go slow, pull over when necessary. Yet there is one type of particularly dangerous weather phenomenon that most people believe they can drive through safely, even though the typical precautions may not be nearly enough.
There are few conditions more dangerous than fog. If the fog is combined with rain, the road conditions can become downright treacherous. Just a moment’s failure to see a car that may literally be a few feet away from you can cause catastrophic injuries and death.
While the best solution is to wait for the fog to pass before you even drive or get off the road as quickly as you can, most drivers try to drive in it because fog normally does not last long. Often fog arrives in the early morning hours when drivers are traveling to work, and they do not account for the extra time they need for their commute. This belief that a person can simply “wait it out” while driving is dangerous, and it creates significant risks.
What is fog, exactly?
According to the National Geographic Society, fog is “a cloud that touches the ground.” Fog appears when water vapor (or its gaseous form) condenses around particles, like dust. As the water condenses, “molecules of water vapor combine to make tiny liquid water droplets that hang in the air.” As the droplets get smaller, the fog gets heavier.
This is why fog occurs when it is humid – because there’s a lot of water vapor in the air. You can’t see the water vapor, though you can see the tiny liquid water droplets.
How does fog affect driving?
According to the US Department of Transportation, every year more than 38,000 vehicle crashes are due to fog. More than 600 people are killed, and 16,300 people are injured in vehicle accidents annually.
Fog can make it hard to distinguish between stationary objects such as parked cars and moving vehicles. Fog makes it harder to judge distances. You’re probably a lot closer to the car in front of you than you think you are.
Fog does more than just make it hard for drivers to see other vehicles and objects. It also affects drivers’ perceptions of how fast they’re driving, because drivers rely on a view of their immediate surroundings to get a feel for their speed. A small study published in PLOS One asked participants to view video clips of “naturalistic driving recordings” – i.e., recordings of real roads from the driver’s point of view – and determine the speed at which the vehicles were moving. The clips included videos of wide, open roads and narrow roads, and were presented in four different scales from 38% to 100%. Per the researchers, “Speed estimates were most accurate for the smallest image size (38% of the actual field of view).” In other words, drivers are less able to tell how fast they’re moving when they cannot judge their own surroundings.
What safety precautions should drivers take when it’s foggy?
We cannot stress enough how much better it is to not drive in fog; it really is dangerous, and the risk of a collision is real. But we also know there may be times where it’s unavoidable. If you must drive in foggy conditions, there are a few things you should do:
- Turn your low beams on, but don’t use your high beams. High beams won’t add to your visibility. They won’t help you see better. The fog essentially redirects the light back towards you. High beams may also affect the vision of drivers coming in the opposite direction. If your car has fog lights, use them. Generally yellow lights reflect back less light than standard white lights. (White lights include all the colors of the rainbow. Yellow and green lights are just one color – they don’t reflect the light as much as white light.)
- Consider using your hazard lights. Hazard lights can help other drivers see your car. It’s good practice to use them whenever you are driving slowly in bad weather.
- Stay focused. Don’t text, eat, fiddle with GPS, or allow yourself to be distracted in any way. Stay focused on the road so you don’t miss signs of movement or light.
- Go slowly. It’s important that you get to your destination safely. Even anxious employers will understand that you needed to go slow because of the fog. (Other drivers are likely to force you to drive slowly as they slow down too.)
- Leave more space. You should stay farther behind other cars than usual because, in fog, they may be more likely to stop suddenly – forcing you to stop suddenly. In addition, try to drive so that drivers behind you aren’t too close.
If visibility is just impossible, then you should pull over to the side of the road where it is safe. Just turn on your hazard lights so other drivers can see you. Then, wait out the fog. It will pass. Remember: when fog is too heavy, airplanes won’t take off. If they can stay put, you can too.
Larson Law Firm, PC has an impressive record of success negotiating settlements and litigating car accident cases. We work aggressively to show that another driver’s negligence was the cause of your crash and resulting injuries. We demand compensation for all your financial and personal losses. We represent accident victims who suffer brain injuries, spinal cord damage, broken bones, and all types of serious injuries. If you were injured while driving in the fog or any weather condition, call us at 701-484-HURT, or complete the contact form to schedule a consultation. We represent car accident victims in Minot, Bismarck, Fargo, and throughout North Dakota.
Mark Larson is a Certified Civil Trial Specialist and Certified Civil Pre-Trial Specialist focusing on personal injury, motor vehicle, wrongful death, and oil field claims. Since 1979, Larson Law Firm has served the injured throughout North Dakota. Read more about Mark V. Larson