Wednesday, February 1

Driving in fog....

Hey, y'all. TxDOT Public Information Officer Josh Donat here. I wanted to offer a personal message in today's post.
This morning a large number of vehicles were involved in collisions along northbound I-37 between Hwy 181 and I-410. Most of these collisions were attributed to dense fog - something we don't deal with too often in this part of Texas.
Yeah, I actually grew up seeing stuff like this on the daily.
Photo pulled from Steve Cole's blog.
Well, I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, just a bit northeast of Seattle. Fog was a near-daily part of the morning commute out there. Heck, some days the fog got to be downright beautiful, when you'd get elevated above the fog line in the morning. The beauty of a foggy PacNW aside, it made for a challenge during our commutes. Sometimes those challenges could prove deadly - claiming the life of a schoolmate of mine when I was in middle school.
Because of these challenges we were taught thoroughly how to best drive through fog - particularly when we had those mornings visibility was limited to a few hundred feet at best. Because I care about the drivers here in San Antonio (and the great state of Texas as a whole), I wanted to take a moment to share with you the things I learned way back when I was in drivers' education classes as a teen:

  1. Reduce your speed. Visibility is kind of important when you're driving. At TxDOT we're taught to "aim high in steering", meaning we try to look out ahead of where we're going. When visibility is limited by fog we can't see or identify hazards out ahead like we can during broad daylight. We're lucky in south Texas - in many places our normal visibility is measured in miles and we can identify road hazards well in advance. During dense fog, though, that advantage disappears. Literally. So should our high travel speeds. Don't drive faster than you can see - reduce your speed during foggy conditions.
  2. Turn on your dang headlights - which engage your taillights as well. This should be a rule when you're driving 100 percent of the time, but is particularly important during fog, rain, dusk or dawn. This helps others see you, and can help you see others. Keep the low-beams on. Don't flip on your high beams. Ever. It's science; the water particles that make up fog reflect and refract the light. Your high beams are typically aimed higher up, straight into the fog. The fog scatters that light all over the place, further limiting your visibility. You'll actually have a better field of vision with low beams than you will with high beams. Also, by turning on your lights you'll have your rear lights on - which means those behind you can actually see you before you use your brakes. This simple act of running with your lights on will protect you and prevent senseless rear-end collisions simply by letting others know you're there.
  3. Use the pavement markings as a guide. Growing up we called the white line on the edge of the road - the right side of your car - the "fog line". I've never heard it referred to as such in Texas (not even by our engineers), but that's what we called it. Why? Because when it was super foggy out, we'd slow down (see No. 1 above) and hug that white line. Why the white line and not the yellow? Because the yellow line puts you dangerously close to oncoming traffic, of course (by the way, this is the mistake my classmate's teenage brother made when I was a kid, and it got his VW Beetle run completely over by a large Ford Bronco). Use that white line - it's there for a reason. Obviously, on smaller roads without that white line (some county roads or city roads don't have them) this won't work; all TxDOT roads do have that white line, though. So use it!
  4. Never, ever, ever just stop in the middle of the road. Slow down, yes. If you feel so inclined, flip on those hazard lights, even. But do not ever just stop in the middle of the road. If you feel like it's unsafe to continue driving, pull over onto the side of the road (or, better yet, take the next opportunity to find a parking lot!) and wait the fog out. I've done this in fog before. I've done it in snowy conditions while going to school in Idaho. I've done it for heavy rains in Virginia and in West Virginia (that Smoky Mountain Rain thing is no joke!). Every time I've gotten as far away from the travel lanes as possible before stopping. I feel like this shouldn't be something we have to remind people of ... but some people apparently don't realize the danger of stopping in the middle of a highway. Just don't do it. Ever.
That's it. Driving in these adverse conditions - when necessary - can be safely done if you follow these basic rules. Of course, if you feel like it's unsafe don't hesitate to just stay home. The good news here is the sun comes up and burns that fog away really fast. For me, growing up in the foothills of the mighty Cascade Mountains, that fog could sit where it was until almost noon. That's not the case here. If it's super foggy out, your best bet is to just wait it out and head in to wherever you're going a few minutes later.
If that's not an option, though, follow these tips. They'll get you through.