Fog can happen any time of year, but it’s most likely to occur after a rainy period. In California and Florida, that means the late fall and early winter months. In fact, fog has caused some of the most horrific chain reaction car pile ups in California history, not surprisingly because it reduces visibility to zero, sometimes without notice due to its patchy nature. Developing safe driving habits can prevent accidents, lower your auto insurance, and even save your life.
Loss of visibility is only part of the problem. Fog also distorts perception, impairing your ability to judge distance, speed and contrast. It casts three dimensional shadows. It plays games with light, diffusing and scattering it. It muffles sound, which also screws with your sensory perception. In short, you see and hear things that aren’t there and miss things that are. The very best advice for driving safely in fog is don’t do it if you don’t have to. Most fog conditions are temporary, so you’re better to delay your trip until the weather clears.
But since fog can appear without warning, you may find yourself stuck in it with no choice but to get through it. Pulling off to the side of the road isn’t necessarily a safe option unless you can get to well-lighted rest stop. Even if you’re well off the pavement, you’re essentially a sitting duck. If you are stranded on the side of the road, turn off your car lights and move well away from the car and the road. Climb as far up any available embankment as possible and wait for the weather to clear.
While driving, do not turn off your lights, but don’t turn on your high beams, either. They’ll just bounce off the fog and further limit your vision. Don’t rely on your parking lamps. Use your low-beams and watch the right edge of the road rather than the center line as a guide to keep you on the road and to prevent head-on collisions. Keep one eye on the road ahead for tail lights. And don’t turn on your emergency blinkers; studies have shown that drivers are actually attracted to flashing lights and will drive toward them!
Slow down. Way down. Patience is in order here. The goal is not to get there as fast as possible but to get there alive. Don’t guess at your speed, either. Check your speedometer. Fog will give you the illusion that you’re driving in slow motion because of the way it distorts objects. Don’t even think about passing. Remember, too, that the roads can be slick from the fog, so avoid hard braking.
Keep your windshield wipers going and your defroster running. Turn off your radio and open your window a bit to listen for other vehicles. Put away the cell phone and other distractions. When you’re driving in fog you need all your senses alert and focused. Think safety first.