Thursday, June 9, 2011

Back Road Techniques

Bad Weather Conditions

When you’re a long way from home and the weather turns bad, you may not have much choice except to deal with it. Rain, fog, snow, or ice can happen at the most unexpected times and places, and you should be mentally ready for the possibility.

Just as on the track under wet conditions, as soon as it starts to rain even a little bit, you need to slow down. Especially during the first rain of the season, oil and rubber that has sunk into the pavement will float back up to the surface very soon after the rain begins. Oily, wet pavement can be every bit as slippery as icy pavement and caution must be your first rule.

The same rules apply for highway driving in the wet as on the track. Make your changes in speed and direction as smooth as possible. Try to stay off the most heavily traveled section of pavement. Staying in the slow lane will allow less sensible drivers to get past you, as well as giving you a better chance of avoiding trouble if the problem arises.

If the rain gets very heavy, your best bet is to tuck under an underpass or preferably get off the highway completely to wait for it to let up. Visibility can go to zero almost instantly and the wet pavement can make it difficult to stop if someone in front of you skids sideways or stops without warning.

Fog is also a hazard that is underrated by many drivers. The moisture can make the pavement slippery, and visibility can be erratic. Because fog can gather in low-lying areas, you can easily drive into a space where visibility is only a few feet or less. Be aware of this, and if you see a thick area ahead, slow down to a crawl before trying to get through.

Fog lights are helpful, but are not a cure-all. They do focus the light beams on the pavement immediately ahead, rather than reflecting it off the fog, but do not give penetrate the fog any more than regular beams. In any case, make sure you’ve turned off your high beams. If you have high-intensity rear fog lamps, turn them on so the cars behind you can see you better.

In snow and ice conditions, caution is critical. Not only is it easier to lose control of the car, but if you slide off the road in cold weather, even survival can become a challenge. One of the most dangerous times to be driving is when the temperature hovers right around zero. Melted snow or rain on the pavement can easily turn to ice, especially on bridges and overpasses. Keep your speed down, and be very sensitive to any feeling of loss of control.

Again, make changes in speed and direction cautiously and smoothly. If there is snow on the road, you are generally better off driving with at least one front wheel in the snow because the grip will be better there than on the portion of the pavement cleared by the wheels of other vehicles. If you do need to put on chains, of course they go on your front wheels, since these are both your power and your steering wheels.

Above all, don’t be in too much of a hurry to complete your journey if the weather turns unexpectedly bad. Be willing to get off the highway and hold up in a restaurant or motel until things get better.

Just be aware that you don’t want to get off the highway unless you are sure you’ll be able to find your way to a safe and secure place to stop. In bad weather, the back roads are likely to be less well patrolled than the main highways and the worst place to be is in an uninhabited and unpatrolled area.

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