Fog is one of those driving hazards you kind of forget about until it sneaks up on you. It's like a weird relative that lives on the opposite side of the country that you completely forget about until a family reunion. But once fog arrives, you have to deal with it. After all, no one gets "fog days" from their boss allowing a stranded employee to stay home from work. So what do you? Well, you use your common sense and tackle that fog head on.
If you're one of those people who likes to talk about how well you can drive based on the area of the country your from, now's the time to start bragging. Things like, "You call this fog?" may be heard coming out of your mouth. But even if you're not accustomed to fog, you probably have a few ideas of how you should drive in it. But are they correct?
Common sense may tell you to do one thing in the fog. The only problem is some of that common sense may be more parts common and less parts sense. So take a look at our 5 completely wrong ways to drive in the fog and test your fog-driving knowledge. Or confirm that you are, indeed, the best fog driver this side of the Mississippi (whichever side you're on).
So let's say you're driving along and all of a sudden you come across a patch of fog. Instantly, your visibility is diminished and your first instinct it to switch on your headlights to get a better view. Bravo! You'll need those headlights to see clearly. But then you push the headlight button just one click further and your high beams are on full blast, tearing light straight through that nasty fog like a pro, right? Wrong.
High beams will not help you see well in the fog. In fact, they're actually going to decrease your visibility. The light from high beams reflects off of the fog and comes back into your eyes, making it more difficult to see what's in front of you. Think of how difficult it is to see when the sun reflects the wrong way off of the car in front of you. You move your head, squint, or look away so the sun's not in your eyes. The fog acts similarly when your high beams are on, sending too much light back into your eyes.
One reporter from Dateline NBC took a test drive with a visibility expert from Virginia Tech (yeah, we didn't know that was an actual job either) and found that when he turned the high beams on he couldn't see a pedestrian that was standing near the car. When the high beams were turned down to low beams, the pedestrian magically appeared.
So in short, don't put the high beams on in fog. It may sound like a good idea but, like a lot things, sounding right just doesn't cut it.
Driving slowly in the fog is just for driving newbs and the super-cautious, right? Nope. Although you may know the roads you drive like the back of your hand, you literally can't see the road in front of you when it's really foggy. Besides not driving at all, slowing down is one of your best options for avoiding an accident in these conditions.
Even if you don't think you're driving fast in the fog, check your speedometer. Fog can actually cause a visual illusion and make it look like you're moving slower than you actually are. Without reference points like buildings, trees or other objects, you'll have a hard time gauging just how fast you're going without taking a good look at that Speedo. Or, uh...speedometer. We meant speedometer.
If you do hit an unexpected patch of fog, don't slam on the brakes. Ease off the accelerator and then use the brakes only if you need to. Hitting your brakes hard will be an unexpected move to the cars behind you, and you may even cause them to slam on their brakes as well. This is how a lot of chain reaction pile-ups are caused on the roads.
Fog is a drag. You have to drive slowly, you can't see well and that makes your commute surprisingly even more boring than it already is. So why not turn up the radio to pass the time? There's no possible way that the radio and fog could have any correlation. None. What. So. Ever. Well actually, cranking up the stereo might not be such a good idea.
Okay, we'll admit it. Being able to hear in the fog doesn't seem like something you'd need to be able to do, but it is. Trust us, we research this stuff. If you're driving in dense fog, turn the radio down and roll your window down as well. It might just make your commute a little safer.
Rolling your windows down allows you to hear the traffic that's all around you, even though you can't necessarily see it. That car that's 20 feet (6.1 meters) in front of you (the one that you can't see), well, you just may be able to hear it -- and believe it or not, that helps. Squeaky brakes, tires hitting a puddle, a bad CV joint or just regular old road noise; hearing all of these things can help you identify when there's a vehicle around you. And when you can't see a car, hearing its location is the next best thing.
If you don't put your window down in the fog, you're driving without visual or audible cues. And honestly, what's left?
We're always taught that there's safety in numbers. So if you're driving in the fog and you spot a fellow driver, speed up right behind them and stick close by. If you're lucky, they'll be going to the same place you are and you can use their car as a point of reference while you tailgate them. While this may seem like a good idea, it's another completely wrong way to drive in the fog.
People tend to drive far too close to one another in the fog because it gives them a visual reference point. But the driver you're following could hit their brakes, rear-end another car or veer the wrong way and you'd be in trouble pretty quickly. We all know that we should keep a safe distance while driving, but this becomes even more important when it's foggy.
Keeping a safe distance greatly reduces your chances of getting into an accident because it gives you even more time to respond. So how far should you stay behind another vehicle? Some experts say you should be at least three lane markers behind the car in front of you. So keep your distance, even if it means you feel like you're driving all by your lonesome.
You know those places on your morning commute where you need to beat out the traffic, so you slam the accelerator and hope you'll make it? Or the place where you only yield at the stop sign, instead of actually stopping, because no one is ever there? Well, this type of driving could get you into some sticky situations when it's foggy.
Why is erratic driving a bad idea on the fog? First off, it's a bad idea in general (do we even really need to say it?). But it's even more dangerous when no one on the road can see you until your basically right in front of their vehicle. In normal weather conditions, if you hop out in front of a fellow driver they might honk at you, show you a certain finger that resides close to the ring finger or something of the sort. But if you jump out in front of another vehicle when it's foggy, they're probably going to just straight-up hit you with their car. Not that they want to, they just won't have any other choice.
So drive a little less unpredictably when it's foggy, and don't change lanes or attempt to pass other vehicles unless it's absolutely necessary. Yeah, it sounds like boring driving, but it could save your life. And really, you shouldn't be making moves on the road that encourage fellow drivers to get mad at you anyways. Not that this writer has ever had a problem with that...
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Author's Note: 5 Completely Wrong Ways to Drive in the Fog
Oddly enough, writing this article made me want to drive in the fog -- at least just a little. Even when you're in a car there's something mysterious and alluring about fog. For the most part, I think I pretty much knew how to drive in the fog -- you know, because I'm from the Northeast. But I honestly don't know whether or not I knew I shouldn't have my high beams on. I'm guessing I would have turned them on just to see if I could get a better visual on the road. Hopefully I would have noticed it didn't help. As for using other cars as a point of reference and sticking to close to them...yeah, I've definitely done that. But no more!
- California DMV. "Driving in the Fog." (March 5, 2012) http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/hdbk/driving_in.htm
- Stafford, Rob. "How Can You Drive Safely in Fog?" MSNBC. Dec. 10, 2004. (March 5, 2012) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6308811/ns/dateline_nbc/t/how-can-you-drive-safely-fog
- Weather Channel. "Driving Safety Tips. Driving in Fog." (March 4, 2012) http://www.weather.com/activities/driving/drivingsafetytips/fog.html