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Encountering winter road hazards with caution, confidence

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Winter is approaching and, depending on your location, many of us are already encountering varying weather conditions associated with it. Regardless of the weather, the mission must go on. As such, we must be prepared to drive in all types of hazardous winter conditions, be it fog, snow or ice.

The following is a list of some of the hazards you may encounter and how to safely negotiate them.

FOG — Valley fog forms when cold, dense air drains from areas of higher elevation into low areas. As the cool air accumulates in the valley, the ambient temperature sometimes decreases to the dew point temperature and creates dense fog. Drivers should expect reduced visibility and turn on their vehicle’s lights, slow down and increase the following distances when driving in fog.

Freezing fog is composed of super-cooled water droplets that form when the temperature falls below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. These droplets freeze and form ice as soon as they contact a cold surface. Freezing fog creates driving problems such as reduced visibility, poor traction and directional control and possible skidding. Drivers should turn on their vehicle’s lights, reduce their speed, accelerate slowly, increase following distances, brake moderately and make turns
slowly.

SNOW — Snow forms when water vapor in the air freezes and creates small ice crystals. Some common hazards associated with driving in snow include reduced visibility and traction, less directional control and increased braking distance. When snow melts and refreezes, drivers encounter even more hazardous road conditions. Intersections, high-traffic areas and shady spots that were exposed to direct sunlight earlier in the day all are prone to ice over from melted snow. During snowy conditions, drivers must reduce their speed, brake moderately, make turns slowly and increase the following distance between vehicles.

ICE — Another dangerous condition associated with winter weather is windshield icing. Windshields and other glass surfaces can ice over when the temperature is low enough to freeze moisture on ground surfaces. Conditions are ripe for windshield icing any time there’s visible ground haze. All ice must be removed from the vehicle’s windshield and other windows before operations begin. Preventive maintenance checks and services should be performed on each vehicle to ensure the defroster and heater system are functioning properly. It’s a good idea to keep an ice scraper in your vehicle just in case the defroster stops working.

BLACK ICE — a thin sheet of dark ice on the roadway — is extremely dangerous because it’s hard for drivers to detect before they’re actually on it. Black ice forms when light rain or drizzle falls on a road surface below 32 degrees Fahrenheit or when super-cooled fog droplets accumulate on bridges and overpasses. A roadway covered with black ice appears wet when the ambient temperature is below freezing.

Drivers must use extreme caution when driving on suspected black ice surfaces. Vehicles that hit black ice have little to no traction, which means little to no braking capability, and extremely poor directional control with a heightened possibility of skidding.

Optimally, travel should stop in black ice conditions. If that isn’t an option, drivers should reduce their speed, accelerate very slowly, increase the following distance between vehicles, brake very lightly and make all turns gradually and slowly.

FROST HEAVING — a condition related to icing, is the uneven lifting and distortion of the ground close to the surface. Frost heaving is the result of water within the soil freezing and expanding. This expansion might damage the road surface and loosen tree roots. The biggest danger associated with frost heaving is the possibility of trees falling across roads, but uneven road surfaces are much more common. Such uneven surfaces can interrupt directional control, which is especially problematic in areas such as curves. Drivers should slow down and look for buckled or uneven patches on the road during freezing weather.

Remember these guidelines when you’re on the road this winter and, most importantly, slow down.

The cold won’t last forever. If you make it through the winter accident-free, you’ll have even more reason to celebrate when spring finally comes. n