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Driving in Different Weather Conditions

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2.11 – Driving at Night

2.11.1 – It’s More Dangerous

You are at greater risk when you drive at night. Drivers can’t see hazards as quickly as in daylight, so they have less time to respond. Drivers caught by surprise are less able to avoid a crash.

The problems of night driving involve the driver, the roadway, and the vehicle.

2.11.2 – Driver Factors

Vision. People can’t see as sharply at night or in dim light. Also, their eyes need time to adjust to seeing in dim light. Most people have noticed this when walking into a dark movie theater.

Good vision is critical for safe driving. Your control of the brake, accelerator, and steering wheel is based on what you see. If you cannot see clearly, you will have trouble identifying traffic and roadway conditions, spotting potential trouble or responding to problems in a timely manner.

Because seeing well is so critical to safe driving, you should have your eyes checked regularly by an eye specialist. You may never know you have poor vision unless your eyes are tested. If you need to wear glasses or contact lenses for driving, remember to.

Always wear them when driving, even if driving short distances. If your driver license says corrective lenses are required, it is illegal to move a vehicle without using corrective lenses.

Keep an extra set of corrective lenses in your vehicle. If your normal corrective lenses are broken or lost, you can use the spare lenses to drive safely.

Avoid using dark or tinted corrective lenses at night, even if you think they help with glare. Tinted lenses cut down the light that you need to see clearly under night driving conditions.

Glare. Drivers can be blinded for a short time by bright light. It takes time to recover from this blindness. Older drivers are especially bothered by glare. Most people have been temporarily blinded by camera flash units or by the high beams of an oncoming vehicle. It can take several seconds to recover from glare. Even two seconds of glare blindness can be dangerous. A vehicle going 55 mph will travel more than half the distance of a football field during that time. Don’t look directly at bright lights when driving. Look at the right side of the road. Watch the sidelines when someone coming toward you has very bright lights on.

Fatigue and Lack of Alertness. Fatigue (being tired) and lack of alertness are bigger problems at night. The body’s need for sleep is beyond a person’s control. Most people are less alert at night, especially after midnight. This is particularly true if you have been driving for a long time. Drivers may not see hazards as soon, or react as quickly, so the chance of a crash is greater. If you are sleepy, the only safe cure is to get off the road and get some sleep. If you don’t, you risk your life and the lives of others.

2.11.3 – Roadway Factors

Poor Lighting. In the daytime there is usually enough light to see well. This is not true at night. Some areas may have bright street lights, but many areas will have poor lighting. On most roads you will probably have to depend entirely on your headlights.

Less light means you will not be able to see hazards as well as in daytime. Road users who do not have lights are hard to see. There are many accidents at night involving pedestrians, joggers, bicyclists, and animals.

Even when there are lights, the road scene can be confusing. Traffic signals and hazards can be hard to see against a background of signs, shop windows, and other lights.

Drive slower when lighting is poor or confusing. Drive slowly enough to be sure you can stop in the distance you can see ahead.

Drunk Drivers. Drunk drivers and drivers under the influence of drugs are a hazard to themselves and to you. Be especially alert around the closing times for bars and taverns. Watch for drivers who have trouble staying in their lane or maintaining speed, who stop without reason, or show other signs of being under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

2.11.4 – Vehicle Factors

Headlights. At night your headlights will usually be the main source of light for you to see by and for others to see you. You can’t see nearly as much with your headlights as you see in the daytime. With low beams you can see ahead about 250 feet and with high beams about 350-500 feet. You must adjust your speed to keep your stopping distance within your sight distance. This means going slowly enough to be able to stop within the range of your headlights. Otherwise, by the time you see a hazard, you will not have time to stop.

Night driving can be more dangerous if you have problems with your headlights. Dirty headlights may give only half the light they should. This cuts down your ability to see, and makes it harder for others to see you. Make sure your lights are clean and working. Headlights can be out of adjustment. If they don’t point in the right direction, they won’t give you a good view and they can blind other drivers. Have a qualified person make sure they are adjusted properly.

Other Lights. In order for you to be seen easily, the following must be clean and working properly:

  • Reflectors.
  • Marker lights.
  • Clearance lights.
  • Taillights.
  • Identification lights.

Turn Signals and Brake Lights. At night your turn signals and brake lights are even more important for telling other drivers what you intend to do. Make sure you have clean, working turn signals and stop lights.

Windshield and Mirrors. It is more important at night than in the daytime to have a clean windshield and clean mirrors. Bright lights at night can cause dirt on your windshield or mirrors to create a glare of its own, blocking your view. Most people have experienced driving toward the sun just as it has risen or is about to set, and found that they can barely see through a windshield that seemed to look OK in the middle of the day. Clean your windshield on the inside and outside for safe driving at night.

2.11.5 – Night Driving Procedures

Pre-trip Procedures. Make sure you are rested and alert. If you are drowsy, sleep before you drive! Even a nap can save your life or the lives of others. If you wear eyeglasses, make sure they are clean and unscratched. Don’t wear sunglasses at night. Do a complete pre-trip inspection of your vehicle. Pay attention to checking all lights and reflectors, and cleaning those you can reach.

Avoid Blinding Others. Glare from your headlights can cause problems for drivers coming toward you. They can also bother drivers going in the same direction you are, when your lights shine in their rearview mirrors. Dim your lights before they cause glare for other drivers. Dim your lights within 500 feet of an oncoming vehicle and when following another vehicle within 500 feet.

Avoid Glare from Oncoming Vehicles. Do not look directly at lights of oncoming vehicles. Look slightly to the right at a right lane or edge marking, if available. If other drivers don’t put their low beams on, don’t try to “get back at them” by putting your own high beams on. This increases glare for oncoming drivers and increases the chance of a crash.

Use High Beams When You Can. Some drivers make the mistake of always using low beams. This seriously cuts down on their ability to see ahead. Use high beams when it is safe and legal to do so. Use them when you are not within 500 feet of an approaching vehicle. Also, don’t let the inside of your cab get too bright. This makes it harder to see outside. Keep the interior light off, and adjust your instrument lights as low as you can to still be able to read the gauges.

If You Get Sleepy, Stop at the Nearest Safe Place. People often don’t realize how close they are to falling asleep even when their eyelids are falling shut. If you can safely do so, look at yourself in a mirror. If you look sleepy, or you just feel sleepy, stop driving! You are in a very dangerous condition. The only safe cure is to sleep

2.12 – Driving in Fog

Fog can occur at any time. Fog on highways can be extremely dangerous. Fog is often unexpected, and visibility can deteriorate rapidly. You should watch for foggy conditions and be ready to reduce your speed. Do not assume that the fog will thin out after you enter it.

The best advice for driving in fog is don’t. It is preferable that you pull off the road into a rest area or truck stop until visibility is better. If you must drive, be sure to consider the following:

  • Obey all fog-related warning signs.
  • Slow down before you enter fog.
  • Use low-beam headlights and fog lights for best visibility even in daytime, and be alert for other drivers who may have forgotten to turn on their lights.
  • Turn on your 4-way flashers. This will give vehicles approaching you from behind a quicker opportunity to notice your vehicle.
  • Watch for vehicles on the side of the roadway. Seeing taillights or headlights in front of you may not be a true indication of where the road is ahead of you. The vehicle may not be on the road at all.
  • Use roadside highway reflectors as guides to determine how the road may curve ahead of you.
  • Listen for traffic you cannot see.
  • Avoid passing other vehicles.
  • Don’t stop along the side of the road, unless absolutely necessary.

2.13 – Driving in Winter

2.13.1 – Vehicle Checks

Make sure your vehicle is ready before driving in winter weather. You should make a regular pre-trip inspection, paying extra attention to the following items.

Coolant Level and Antifreeze Amount. Make sure the cooling system is full and there is enough antifreeze in the system to protect against freezing. This can be checked with a special coolant tester.

Defrosting and Heating Equipment. Make sure the defrosters work. They are needed for safe driving. Make sure the heater is working, and that you know how to operate it. If you use other heaters and expect to need them (e.g., mirror heaters, battery box heaters, fuel tank heaters), check their operation.

Wipers and Washers. Make sure the windshield wiper blades are in good condition. Make sure the wiper blades press against the window hard enough to wipe the windshield clean, otherwise they may not sweep off snow properly. Make sure the windshield washer works and there is washing fluid in the washer reservoir.

Use windshield washer antifreeze to prevent freezing of the washer liquid. If you can’t see well enough while driving (for example, if your wipers fail), stop safely and fix the problem.

Tires. Make sure you have enough tread on your tires. The drive tires must provide traction to push the rig over wet pavement and through snow. The steering tires must have traction to steer the vehicle. Enough tread is especially important in winter conditions. You must have at least 4/32 inch tread depth in every major groove on front tires and at least 2/32 inch on other tires. More would be better. Use a gauge to determine if you have enough tread for safe driving.

Tire Chains. You may find yourself in conditions where you can’t drive without chains, even to get to a place of safety. Carry the right number of chains and extra cross-links. Make sure they will fit your drive tires. Check the chains for broken hooks, worn or broken cross-links, and bent or broken side chains. Learn how to put the chains on before you need to do it in snow and ice.

Lights and Reflectors. Make sure the lights and reflectors are clean. Lights and reflectors are especially important during bad weather. Check from time to time during bad weather to make sure they are clean and working properly.

Windows and Mirrors. Remove any ice, snow, etc., from the windshield, windows, and mirrors before starting. Use a windshield scraper, snow brush, and windshield defroster as necessary.

Hand Holds, Steps, and Deck Plates. Remove all ice and snow from hand holds, steps, and deck plates. This will reduce the danger of slipping.

Radiator Shutters and Winterfront. Remove ice from the radiator shutters. Make sure the winterfront is not closed too tightly. If the shutters freeze shut or the winterfront is closed too much, the engine may overheat and stop.

Exhaust System. Exhaust system leaks are especially dangerous when cab ventilation may be poor (windows rolled up, etc.). Loose connections could permit poisonous carbon monoxide to leak into your vehicle. Carbon monoxide gas will cause you to be sleepy. In large enough amounts it can kill you. Check the exhaust system for loose parts and for sounds and signs of leaks.

2.13.2 – Driving

Slippery Surfaces. Drive slowly and smoothly on slippery roads. If it is very slippery, you shouldn’t drive at all. Stop at the first safe place.

Start Gently and Slowly. When first starting, get the feel of the road. Don’t hurry.

Check for Ice. Check for ice on the road, especially bridges and overpasses. A lack of spray from other vehicles indicates ice has formed on the road. Also, check your mirrors and wiper blades for ice. If they have ice, the road most likely will be icy as well.

Adjust Turning and Braking to Conditions. Make turns as gently as possible. Don’t brake any harder than necessary, and don’t use the engine brake or speed retarder. (They can cause the driving wheels to skid on slippery surfaces.)

Adjust Speed to Conditions. Don’t pass slower vehicles unless necessary. Go slowly and watch far enough ahead to keep a steady speed. Avoid having to slow down and speed up. Take curves at slower speeds and don’t brake while in curves. Be aware that as the temperature rises to the point where ice begins to melt, the road becomes even more slippery. Slow down more.

Adjust Space to Conditions. Don’t drive alongside other vehicles. Keep a longer following distance. When you see a traffic jam ahead, slow down or stop to wait for it to clear. Try hard to anticipate stops early and slow down gradually. Watch for snowplows, as well as salt and sand trucks, and give them plenty of room.

Wet Brakes. When driving in heavy rain or deep standing water, your brakes will get wet. Water in the brakes can cause the brakes to be weak, to apply unevenly, or to grab. This can cause lack of braking power, wheel lockups, pulling to one side or the other, and jackknife if you pull a trailer.

Avoid driving through deep puddles or flowing water if possible. If not, you should:

  • Slow down and place transmission in a low gear.
  • Gently put on the brakes. This presses linings against brake drums or discs and keeps mud, silt, sand, and water from getting in.
  • Increase engine rpm and cross the water while keeping light pressure on the brakes.
  • When out of the water, maintain light pressure on the brakes for a short distance to heat them up and dry them out.
  • Make a test stop when safe to do so. Check behind to make sure no one is following, then apply the brakes to be sure they work well. If not, dry them out further as described above. (CAUTION: Do not apply too much brake pressure and accelerator at the same time, or you can overheat brake drums and linings.)

2.14 – Driving in Very Hot Weather

2.14.1 – Vehicle Checks

Do a normal pre-trip inspection, but pay special attention to the following items.

Tires. Check the tire mounting and air pressure. Inspect the tires every two hours or every 100 miles when driving in very hot weather. Air pressure increases with temperature. Do not let air out or the pressure will be too low when the tires cool off. If a tire is too hot to touch, remain stopped until the tire cools off. Otherwise the tire may blow out or catch fire.

Engine Oil. The engine oil helps keep the engine cool, as well as lubricating it. Make sure there is enough engine oil. If you have an oil temperature gauge, make sure the temperature is within the proper range while you are driving.

Engine Coolant. Before starting out, make sure the engine cooling system has enough water and antifreeze according to the engine manufacturer’s directions. (Antifreeze helps the engine under hot conditions as well as cold conditions.) When driving, check the water temperature or coolant temperature gauge from time to time. Make sure that it remains in the normal range. If the gauge goes above the highest safe temperature, there may be something wrong that could lead to engine failure and possibly fire. Stop driving as soon as safely possible and try to find out what is wrong.

Some vehicles have sight glasses, see-through coolant overflow containers, or coolant recovery containers. These permit you to check the coolant level while the engine is hot. If the container is not part of the pressurized system, the cap can be safely removed and coolant added even when the engine is at operating temperature.

Never remove the radiator cap or any part of the pressurized system until the system has cooled. Steam and boiling water can spray under pressure and cause severe burns. If you can touch the radiator cap with your bare hand, it is probably cool enough to open.

If coolant has to be added to a system without a recovery tank or overflow tank, follow these steps:

  • Shut engine off.
  • Wait until engine has cooled.
  • Protect hands (use gloves or a thick cloth).
  • Turn radiator cap slowly to the first stop, which releases the pressure seal.
  • Step back while pressure is released from cooling system.
  • When all pressure has been released, press down on the cap and turn it further to remove it.
  • Visually check level of coolant and add more coolant if necessary.
  • Replace cap and turn all the way to the closed position.

Engine Belts. Learn how to check v-belt tightness on your vehicle by pressing on the belts. Loose belts will not turn the water pump and/or fan properly. This will result in overheating. Also, check belts for cracking or other signs of wear.

Hoses. Make sure coolant hoses are in good condition. A broken hose while driving can lead to engine failure and even fire.

2.14.2 – Driving

Watch for Bleeding Tar. Tar in the road pavement frequently rises to the surface in very hot weather. Spots where tar “bleeds” to the surface are very slippery.

Go Slowly Enough to Prevent Overheating. High speeds create more heat for tires and the engine. In desert conditions the heat may build up to the point where it is dangerous. The heat will increase chances of tire failure or even fire, and engine failure.

Test Your Knowledge

  • You should use low beams whenever you can. True or False?
  • What should you do before you drive if you are drowsy?
  • What effects can wet brakes cause? How can you avoid these problems?
  • You should let air out of hot tires so the pressure goes back to normal. True or False?
  • You can safely remove the radiator cap as long as the engine isn’t overheated. True or False?

These questions may be on the test. If you can’t answer all of them, re-read subsections 2.11, 2.12, 2.13, and 2.14