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Chapter 5 - Special Skills for Difficult Driving Environments
Some conditions make driving on the roads of New York hazardous due to a number of factors. The most obvious one is probably the weather. Traffic crashes are more common during inclement weather, and this is in part because many drivers do not make the necessary adjustments. Whenever conditions are less than ideal for driving, always travel at a reduced speed, not the posted limit. The posted speed limit is for ideal conditions, i.e. dry, clear roads. Always be alert to driving conditions to stay safe. Although you can't protect yourself against every danger you face, you can still minimize your risks.
Remember that when driving in adverse weather conditions, you must turn on your headlights and slow down to a reasonable and safe speed. This chapter will discuss these types of situations.
Fog reduces visibility on the road.
You should expect and prepare for fog during the winter months, as it can appear without warning. It creates hazardous conditions for driving because it reduces visibility on the road. In heavy fog, visibility is often less than a car length, meaning you're better off not driving at all. Due to the patchy nature of fog, you may encounter areas with lower visibility. If you are near a river or the ocean, expect even greater difficulty in seeing the road. Fog usually burns off after a period of time, so it is better to be patient and wait it out than to risk a crash. However, if you must drive, leave earlier and take the following steps to ensure safe travel (these also apply when driving through heavy smoke).
- Sharply reduce your normal driving speed.
- If you see headlights or taillights ahead, slow down even more. The vehicle displaying these lights may be driving down the center of the roadway, stopped, or barely moving at all.
- Be prepared to stop for an emergency.
- If the fog is so thick you cannot safely drive more than 10 MPH, pull over and off the road where it is safe, preferably at the nearest exit or rest area, or if that is not possible, to the edge as far from the road as possible.
- Turn on your low beams so that other drivers can see you, whether it is day or night. High beams will reflect light back at you in fog, resulting in glare that makes it difficult for YOU to see. Use fog lights if your vehicle is equipped with them.
- Use the edge line or, if necessary, the right side of the road as a guide. Remember what white and yellow pavement markings tell you because you may not be able to see highway signs until it is too late.
How Fog Affects Driving
Fog affects driver performance by reducing visibility and your ability to judge distance. It also reduces the effectiveness of your vehicle's headlights because you cannot use your high beams. Fog can cause the roadway to be slippery, making it more difficult to get traction.
High winds can cause a driver to lose control of the vehicle, with gusts often thrashing the vehicle off the road. High profile vehicles, such as campers, trucks, or RVs, are often more susceptible to overturning when high winds are prevalent. Slowing down is your best defense as it can ease the danger of driving in high winds. When meeting large vehicles such as trucks and buses, be prepared to make steering corrections for sudden changes in wind.
How Wind Affects Driving
Wind affects driver performance by reducing steering control. A tail wind pushes your vehicle in one direction. A head wind slows you down. Cross winds may cause your vehicle to sway and even overturn if it is a large vehicle.
- Snow and Ice
Both snow and ice reduce traction on the road. Icy and snow-packed roads are much more dangerous for driving, mostly because they are unexpected. Ice storms can create freezes that lead to the formation of black ice, which is a thin layer of ice created when water on the road becomes frozen. Black ice is virtually invisible and difficult to detect because the road underneath shows through. It is most often found on the surfaces of bridges, intersections and shaded areas, and occurs most often during early morning or late night hours.
If you have to drive on icy roads or those covered with packed snow, be aware that it may take as much as ten times longer to stop your vehicle than it would on dry pavement. Have you ever gone ice skating? You would notice when you started out that even standing on the ice in an ice rink is difficult because the ice is so slippery, more so than even a wet sidewalk. Your vehicle will likewise have difficulty with traction, and for that reason you need a lot of room in which to operate. Below are some tips for driving safely in snow or ice:
Both snow and ice reduce traction on the road.
- Equip your vehicle with snow tires or chains for better traction. However, be aware that:
- All-wheel-drive vehicles with no chains generally perform better than two-wheel-drive vehicles using chains on the rear wheels.
- Chains grip the road in snow but slide and slip on ice or packed snow.
- You must keep your driving speed low. DO NOT change speed or direction suddenly.
- Watch for black ice in areas where they are found (bridges, intersections and shady areas).
- Increase your following distance to 8-10 seconds or more (triple or quadruple the usual space).
- Keep your windows clear so you can see and communicate with others on the road.
- If you need to stop or turn, slow down gradually and smoothly.
- Unless your vehicle has antilock brakes (ABS), do not slam on your brakes. It will lock the tires, causing you to lose steering control unless the wheels are turning. If your vehicle has antilock brakes, you must maintain firm, constant pressure on the brake pedal without pumping it (see chapter 9 for more on how to use ABS).
- DO NOT use cruise control.
How Snow and Ice Affect Driving
Snow and ice can affect driver performance by reducing visibility, largely through glare. They can also create a hypnotic state. Both snow and ice reduce steering control. They increase your vehicle's stopping distance, reduce traction, and decrease maneuverability.
Driving without Snow Tires or Chains
It is very dangerous to drive in snow and ice without the proper equipment. But if you do drive, the following techniques will help:
- Slow, controlled actions (steering, accelerating, slowing down, etc.) are the key to safe driving in snow and ice. This means no sharp turns or hard stops as these will cause your vehicle to skid. What you should do instead is to plan your turns well in advance. When slowing down, use a light pulsing or pumping motion with your brakes.
- To get your vehicle moving from a stop, ease down on the gas to make the most of the traction available. If driving a vehicle with manual transmission, use a gear that is one step higher than what you use under normal circumstances. This reduces the torque at the wheels and increases traction.
- If your vehicle starts to slide, take your foot off the gas and turn the steering wheel in the direction of the skid. Never slam on your brakes in a skid unless your vehicle is equipped with ABS. Hard braking will lock your wheels and worsen the situation. If you need to use your brakes, pump them. In a vehicle equipped with ABS, as discussed above, press firmly on the brake pedal and maintain constant pressure to allow the ABS to activate. You will then be able to steer through the skid.
Winter Driving/Survival Kit
Are you prepared to be stuck in your car for a period of time when a snow storm hits? Be sure your vehicle can handle the rigors of winter driving before you head out by checking on the following (your mechanic can do these for you):
- Brakes and tires - use snow tires or tire chains
- Battery and ignition system
- Antifreeze and thermostat
- Windshield wipers and de-icing washer fluid
- Headlights, tail/brake lights, turn signals and emergency flashers
- Exhaust system, heater and defroster
- Properly lubricate door locks that may be prone to freezing
Before leaving home, pack a snowstorm survival kit and store it in your car at all times. The kit should contain:
A snowstorm survival kit should include a flashlight.
- Extra-warm clothing
- Warm winter gloves
- A flashlight
- Extra batteries for the flashlight
- Highway flares
- Booster cables
- A length of rope
- Tow cable or chain
- Ice and snow scrapers
- A pocket knife
- Matches (water proof)
- Non-perishable food
- Drinking water (lots)
- A camping or backpacking stove can also be handy
- Add a brightly colored cloth so that you can mark your location if you have to leave your car.
If you must drive, let someone know your route and schedule before you head out. Keep your gas tank near full to keep ice from forming in the tank and fuel lines. Should you get stuck, leave your car only if it is safe to do so. You will be much safer in your car than out in the elements or exposed to traffic. The most important thing is to stay warm. Occasionally run the engine to keep warm. Turn on your car's engine for 10 minutes each hour. While you have the engine running, also turn on the heater. Beware of carbon monoxide poisoning when you run the engine. Clear away snow from the exhaust pipe and open a downwind window slightly for ventilation. Use your blankets and huddle with any passengers to remain warm.
Hydroplaning is a condition where the tires of a moving vehicle ride on the surface of water.
Rain creates a thin film of water that often causes separation between the vehicle's tires and the road, reducing traction. As a result, your vehicle will need at least two to three times longer to stop than it would on dry roads. When driving in the rain, you should:
- Increase your following distance to at least 4 seconds.
- Use low beams.
- Turn on your windshield wipers once there is enough water on the windshield to keep it clean and clear. Be sure to replace the wiper blades when they smear or streak the windshield.
How Rain Affects Driving
Rain reduces your visibility, which is why you need to use windshield wipers to clear your windshield when it gets wet. It also may reduce your control of your vehicle. In addition to the reduced traction and longer stopping distance, rain decreases your vehicle's maneuverability. When there is enough water on the roadway, rain may cause hydroplaning.
Water normally goes through the treads in your tires to allow for traction. When the tires are unable to channel out all the water on the road, it results in loss of traction, and hydroplaning occurs. Hydroplaning is a condition where the tires of a moving vehicle ride on the surface of water. It causes loss of steering and braking control. The major factors influencing hydroplaning are steering, braking and speed. Hydroplaning is caused by:
- Tires that are not properly inflated (under- or over-inflated).
- Water depth on road.
- Lack of tread depth on tires.
In addition to loss of vehicle control, hydroplaning increases your vehicle's stopping distance due to the loss of traction and decreases its maneuverability. You need to keep your tires properly inflated and ensure that they have sufficient tread. This will reduce your risk of hydroplaning. (If you let air out of the tires, you will actually increase your chances of hydroplaning. Keeping your tires inflated at the maximum recommended level will give them more traction.) You should also avoid driving through puddles. Follow in the tracks of the vehicle ahead if possible.
If your vehicle starts hydroplaning, regain control as quickly as possible. You should:
- Slowly take your foot off the gas. DO NOT step on the brakes.
- Steer into the skid.
- Allow the tires to regain contact with the pavement by slowing down gradually.
In some places, rainfall occurs so rarely that when the road does get wet, water mixes with the oil and grease that have seeped into the pavement, making the road extremely slippery. Due to the sharply reduced traction your chances of hydroplaning are even greater under these conditions.
Traffic congestion is a growing problem in the United States.
- Traffic Congestion
Traffic congestion is a growing problem in the United States as the number of drivers is increasing more quickly than the miles of roads that are being built. Here are a few common sense rules you can follow to help you deal with traffic congestion:
- Stay calm and be patient. You will eventually reach your destination.
- Always signal your intention to change lanes. Check to make sure the way is clear.
- When you see someone attempting a lane change, allow him or her in. Courtesy among drivers makes traffic flow a lot more smoothly for everyone.
- When driving on a frontage road, yield the right-of-way to vehicles exiting the expressway.
- Keep intersections clear. This means you should not enter an intersection after the light has turned red or if you cannot completely clear the intersection before the light turns red. Blocking the intersection will lead to gridlock, slowing down traffic even further.
How Traffic Congestion Affects Driving
Heavy traffic can test a driver's patience, causing increased frustration, reduced attention span and fatigue. Traffic congestion can also cause your vehicle's engine to overheat as well as excessive brake wear and inefficient fuel consumption.
Urban, Rural and Expressway Environments
All of your driving will be in three different types of environments: urban (city), rural and expressway (limited access highways). Each of these environments place different demands on you, requiring you to adjust your driving.
- Rural Highway Driving
More than half of all fatal traffic crashes nationwide occur on highways in rural areas. This is despite statistics showing that only about one in four Americans live in rural areas, making the chances of dying in a rural crash almost two times higher. Although fatal crashes are more common in urban areas in New York State, it is still more dangerous to drive on a rural highway. For example, crash victims are five to seven times more likely to die if they need more than 30 minutes to get to a hospital. On average, it takes about 34 minutes to get from a crash scene to a hospital in urban areas and 52 minutes in rural areas. Therefore you need to take extra precautions when driving on a rural highway.
Cows and other livestock may make unexpected entries onto the roadway.
Surface hazards on rural highways include:
- Unpaved roads.
Other hazards you may encounter include:
- Unmarked driveways.
- High-speed cross traffic.
- Bushes and trees that obstruct the road or visibility.
- Narrow or soft shoulders, which are often unmarked.
- Farm equipment.
- Unregulated roadways and crossings.
- Slow-moving vehicles such as bicycles, tractors, large trucks, and animal-drawn vehicles.
- Poor lighting.
- Geographic layouts such as curves and hills.
Why Rural Driving Can Be Unsafe
Because the road tends to be open in rural areas, you may feel like you have more control over how you drive. For one thing, congestion does not occur quite as often. However, there are other hazards such as those listed above. Getting too comfortable in a rural driving environment can make it more dangerous than driving in the city. Speeding is also a major contributing factor to traffic fatalities that occur on rural highways. In addition, rural roads may lead to loss of traction due to poor roadway surfaces, decreased fuel economy, and a greater stopping distance due to the higher speeds.
Large animals can cause just as much damage to your vehicle as another car.
Small animals may dart into your path while you drive. Try to swerve or brake sharply, if it is safe. You never want to risk a collision or put a life in danger to avoid a small animal. Large animals (cows, deer, elk, etc.) should be avoided at all costs; they can cause just as much damage to you and your vehicle as another car.
- City Driving
The city is where many important activities take place. It is also where as many as 75% of all crashes occur, and nearly half are at intersections. These are most frequent in the afternoon and early evening hours. Increased traffic and congestion in the city is a major factor. With that in mind, driving too fast will not give you time to react in a safe manner. When driving in the city, slow down in order to:
- Give yourself more time to see and recognize details in the environment, allowing you to identify potential threats before you reach them.
- Give yourself more time to anticipate potential outcomes and decide the best course of action.
- Increase your reaction time.
Covering the brake is often prudent and a safe driving practice.
You should scan well ahead in traffic so you can:
- Look for potential traffic hazards and threats.
- Leave enough safe space to maneuver around them.
- Be prepared for unexpected situations.
- Keep in mind the big picture.
Sometimes you will need to cover your brake (keeping your foot over the brake pedal). You should cover the brake when:
- Driving next to parked cars.
- Approaching intersections.
- Approaching traffic signals.
- Driving in a school zone.
- You see brake lights flashing ahead.
Why City Driving Can Be Unsafe
Urban areas tend to be more heavily populated. This means you will likely encounter traffic congestion. Space on roadways may also be limited. Driver information such as signals, signs and roadway markings can be tightly clustered, which may intensify the driving task. Driving in the city may lead to increased braking due to congestion, overheating, and poor fuel efficiency.
City Driving Tips
Urban areas tend to be more heavily populated.
Here are some ways to make city driving a little more pleasant and safer:
- Drive with the flow of traffic (within legal speeds).
- Avoid driving in another driver's blind spot.
- Avoid side-by-side driving whenever possible.
- Avoid driving in bunches.
- Plan ahead and choose a safe route based on the time of day and the volume of traffic. Often this means choosing among the following:
- Through streets vs. side streets.
- One-way streets vs. two-way streets.
- Toll roads.
Watch for the following, as they are problems unique to city traffic.
- Parked or stopped cars obstructing your view of cross traffic.
- Two-way left turn center lanes.
- One-way streets.
- Pedestrians and bicyclists.
- Highway Driving
Access on interstate highways, thruways and other limited-access highways is limited, which helps to make them somewhat safer to use than city streets. You can drive faster, and you don't have to worry about cross traffic. However, you do need to watch for others driving in your direction. Some hazards you may encounter on the highway include frequent lane changing, sudden slowing, and tailgating. You can still be safe while driving on the highway with the techniques presented in this section.
Tips for Highway Driving
When entering the highway:
On highways, you don't have to worry about cross traffic.
- Yield to vehicles already on the highway.
- Increase your vehicle speed to match the flow of highway traffic so you can merge safely.
Which lane should you choose?
- Choose the right-hand lane if:
- Driving at the minimum speed.
- Driving slower than the flow of traffic.
- Exiting the highway.
- Choose the middle or left lane if:
- Driving at the speed limit or faster than other traffic. (The left-hand lane is for faster traffic.)
- Passing another vehicle.
After choosing a lane, you should:
- Stay in the middle of your lane.
- Limit the number of lane changes. Excessive lane changes increases your chances of crashing.
- Use the three-second following rule.
- Adjust your driving speed to allow other vehicles to enter the highway.
When you want to exit the highway, you should plan ahead. Move into the proper lane well in advance of the exit. Exit signs are usually about 1,000 yards ahead of the exit turnoff, which should give you time to decide. When you get on the exit ramp, slow down to a speed appropriate for city driving.
Special notes on off-ramps: Exit lanes allow drivers to reduce speeds to the posted limit without affecting the highway flow. You should yield to others when necessary. If you miss an exit, you should simply exit the highway at the next off-ramp, re-enter the highway to proceed in the opposite direction, and then go back to your intended exit. Do not attempt any radical maneuvers such as multiple lane changes. Special care must be taken on a curved ramp; speed should be decreased because the ramps would not be safe for highway speeds.
Why Highway Driving Can Be Unsafe
The dangers you face on highways are similar to what you may face while driving in the city, except for the higher speeds. When driving on an urban highway, you may face congestion. This will force frequent changes in speed and increased lane changes. You also face various entrance and exit configurations. In addition, your vehicle's stopping distance will be increased due to the higher speeds. You may have to accelerate more quickly just to match the flow on the highway. It also takes longer to maneuver your vehicle in your intended path of travel.
Reduced Visibility Conditions
Conditions that reduce your visibility make driving dangerous. These include hills, fogs, curves, and light conditions, which includes night, sunset, sunrise, and glare.
- Backing Up
The law states that you may not back a vehicle unless it can be done with reasonable safety. It is unwise and unsafe to back up around corners or curves in the road. When backing up, it is important to remember the following:
- Use side mirrors as much as necessary, but you must also check over your shoulder and look through the back window.
- Keep backing speed at a slow and controlled level by placing a foot on the brake pedal.
- Be aware of children and objects on the road. Remember that you cannot see below the level of your vehicle's trunk.
- Avoid sharp turns and be aware of odd angles that may result from backing up.
- Use passengers to lend assistance.
- Avoid backing up altogether if possible.
- Try and locate parking spaces that may not require backing up.
- Make sure your head and body are in the proper position, alert and facing the direction in which you are moving.
- Only release the brake pedal when you are prepared to back up and your view is to the rear.
Dangerous Light Conditions
Make sure your headlights are clean and working well.
- Night-time Driving
Driving at night is more dangerous than driving during the day. For one thing, you cannot see as far ahead and your peripheral vision is drastically reduced. Despite this fact, most people do not receive any special night driving training. There are laws requiring headlights to be turned on at certain times and conditions, but other than that you have to learn by experience. Here are some laws and tips for driving safely at night:
- Turn on your headlights in bad weather when you must use windshield wipers or when you cannot see 1,000 feet (the average length of two blocks) in front of you.
- Turn your headlights on from half an hour after sunset until half an hour before sunrise.
- Make sure your headlights are clean and working well. Have them checked from time to time for correct aim.
- Use your high beams when there are no oncoming vehicles.
- Do not overdrive your headlights. Your headlights only let you see about 350 feet ahead. Be sure you are driving slow enough to stop or turn within that distance if you need to.
- Use your low beams when you come within 500 feet (about one block) of an oncoming vehicle. Also use your low beams when following another vehicle within 200 feet.
- Make sure your windows are clean.
- Slow down when nearing a curve if you are driving the maximum posted speed limit.
- Use the edge line as a guide. If there is no edge line, use the center line to guide you.
- Stay awake and alert. Do not drive if you feel tired.
- Watch carefully for highway signs - they are harder to see at night.
- Watch carefully for people and vehicles stopped on the side of the road.
Why Driving At Night Can Be Unsafe
When it gets dark, it results in reduced visibility, increased fatigue as the body expects sleep, and slower reaction time. Also when driving, glare from headlights may also reduce your visibility. Darkness can increase the possibility you will lose control of your vehicle.
Why You Should Obey Laws on Lights
There are some rules for driving at night that you must follow. They help make driving safer for you and other road users. If you don't obey them, it may result in:
- Personal injury.
- Property damage.
- Fines and license suspension.
- Hills and Curves
Hills and curves cause visibility problems regardless of the time of day. You cannot use your headlights to help you see, and when you do use them at night in hills and curves, the lights will not help you see around or over these obstacles. Slow down when approaching the crest of hills or curves and always anticipate the worst. Avoid passing, accelerating or changing lanes due to the limited visibility.
Glare can occur during both day and night hours from the sun, reflective surfaces and bright lights. Sunlight helps us to see the road better, but it can create problems while driving. When the lights get into our eyes, either directly in front of or behind us, the resulting glare can blind us, making driving hazardous not only to ourselves, but to others on the road. You can combat glare by using sunglasses if driving during the day, using your visor, looking away from the source of the light, and making sure your windows are clean and clear. In addition, you may want to avoid driving when the sun is at or near the horizon, which is around the early morning or late evening hours. You should also slow down, just as you would when weather conditions reduce visibility. When your windshield is dirty, that will magnify the effects of glare.
Meeting Other Vehicles
Driving on two-way roads at night or when light conditions cause glare can be dangerous. To increase your safety when meeting other vehicles, you can:
- Increase your safe driving space.
- Use highway markers on the right as guides.
- Use your side vision rather than central vision.
Why Glare Can Make Driving Unsafe
Glare reduces your visibility, which can increase your reaction time. The reduced visibility can make it more likely that you will lose control of your vehicle. As in any situation, when you are not in control of your vehicle, it may result in:
- Personal injury.
- Property damage.
- Fines and license suspension.
Dangerous Road Conditions
Conditions that affect your handling of the vehicle can make driving dangerous. Below are a few examples of dangerous road conditions:
- Soft shoulders
- Narrow roads
- Construction work (work zones)
- Railroad crossings
- Low-water crossings
When driving on curves, your visibility may be limited as the depth of your field of vision goes only as far as the crest of the curve. Curves also make your vehicle more difficult to control due to the centrifugal force that may pull it away from the center line. Braking in the curve, in addition to causing strain to the tires, may cause skidding, especially if the road is slippery.
Management of Curves
Before reaching a curve, slow down and then accelerate slowly while driving through the curve. You should use the horn to alert drivers coming from the opposite direction. Be sure to maintain a safe driving space.
- Soft Shoulders
Some shoulders are paved which allow for optimum vehicle traction, but soft shoulders are usually just packed dirt which is unstable. Driving on the soft shoulder is highly dangerous because it can lead to loss of vehicle control, and it is also illegal. These should only be utilized in an emergency situation. Whenever you drive on rough road surfaces such as soft shoulders, you may lose traction and steering control.
Management of Soft Shoulders
If you drive onto a soft shoulder, you will need to return to the roadway. To do this, first slow down without braking too hard. Once you have regained control of your vehicle, turn the steering wheel a quarter turn toward the roadway. You will then be able to return smoothly to the roadway.
Potholes often appear after a storm has hit. They are also found on old and poorly maintained roads. If you drive across a pothole, it can cause you to swerve out of control if you lose your grip on the steering wheel. A pothole can also affect your vehicle by damaging its suspension and tires.
Management of Potholes
You should try to avoid driving over potholes while maintaining your lane. If you must drive over a pothole, slow down so you can maintain control of your vehicle. This will help you avoid tire and suspension damage.
Roads that are narrow make it difficult to maneuver around oncoming vehicles.
- Narrow Roads
Many roads in residential areas allow vehicles to park along the sides. As many of these roads were designed before SUVs and other large vehicles became popular, the travel lanes become narrow. Other areas where the road may be narrow include bridges, rural roads (particularly in the mountains), and any roads with guardrails, trees, or anything else alongside the roadway. Roads that are narrow make it difficult to maneuver around oncoming vehicles. A slight miscalculation can result in loss of control of your vehicle that may result in personal injury, property damage or even death. Because you are still responsible for what you do behind the wheel, you may face fines or a license suspension.
Management of Narrow Roads
When navigating a narrow road, you must remain in your lane and stay as far to the right as safely possible. If the available driving space is too narrow for two vehicles, you will need to communicate with drivers coming from the opposite direction. If the other driver gives you the right-of-way, you may proceed. If you are not sure, pull over to allow oncoming traffic to clear. Always maintain a safe driving space. If you are on a narrow mountain road (or any road with a grade), the driver going downhill should yield the right-of-way because it is easier and safer to back up than it is to back down.
- Construction Work
As discussed in the last chapter, you face many potential hazards when driving through work zones. Because the roads often become narrow due to construction, your vehicle's maneuverability is limited. The consequences of losing control of your vehicle in these areas include:
- Personal injury.
- Property damage.
- Fines and license suspension.
Management of Work Zones
To get through work zones safely, always remember the following:
- Stay within your lane.
- Pull over to allow oncoming traffic through if necessary.
- Maintain a safe driving space.
- Obey all signs and workers directing traffic.
Proceed with caution after the crossing is clear and the signals indicate you may proceed.
- Railroad Crossings
When driving through railroad crossings, you will be going across raised tracks or gaps in the road where the rails are positioned. These can make it difficult for you to maintain control of your vehicle and may damage its suspension and tires.
Management of Railroad Crossings
Always slow down when crossing in these areas. As discussed in the last chapter, you should always do the following at railroad crossings:
- Check traffic.
- Maintain a safe distance between your vehicle and the tracks when you must stop. Stop no closer than 15 feet from the nearest rail.
- After the first train has passed, check for any others that may be approaching.
- Proceed with caution after the crossing is clear and the signals indicate you may proceed.
- Be sure to reduce any interior noise such as the radio and air conditioning so you can listen for any approaching trains.
- Rising and Low-Water Crossings
Sudden rain storms can cause the water in rivers, creeks and streams to rise and fall rapidly. Many of these crossings are constructed for low water levels only. Road workers will often place roadblocks around flooded roadways to keep drivers out of trouble. If you see any of these roadblocks, it is time to look for an alternate route. Drivers who go around the barriers often find themselves requiring assistance. Be smart and use an alternate route.
Some low-water crossings are marked by a yellow diamond-shaped warning sign. Examples include:
- "Water Crossing" - This sign is posted at low-water crossings where water usually stays year-round. The road where this sign is placed is designed to carry the water, so there should be no potholes or washouts.
- "Watch Out for Water on Road" - This sign warns drivers that there will be shallow sheets of water on the road in wet weather. You may find this sign posted at low-water crossings and along stretches of the roadway that run beside a stream or other body of water. When you see this sign, you need to slow down to avoid hydroplaning.
- "Water on the Road Next ___ Miles" - This sign is posted in areas where low-water crossings may occur.
- "Dip" - This sign warns of a potential low-water crossing. It is the most common sign that warns of these types of crossings.
- "Flood Gauge" - A flood gauge is black and white. It is posted at some low-water crossings. A "zero" reading on the gauge equals the level of the center line on the pavement.
Do not drive through deep water!
Most low-water crossings do not have the above signs or any type of marking at all. Road workers also cannot place roadblocks in every area where the road is flooded. Do not drive through deep water! You may get stranded, sink under water, or even be washed away. The water can damage your vehicle's engine. In addition, the water may hide potholes or worse. Always remember these rules:
- Never drive into rising water.
- Never drive into water if you cannot see the bottom clearly.
- Never drive into swift-running water.
Why Rising and Low-Water Crossings Are Dangerous
The best way to avoid getting stuck in deep water is to avoid low-water crossings and all other flooded roads. Many people think they can cross a flooded road safely. However, there are problems with this thinking. These are some problems that you can encounter when attempting to drive through a flooded area:
- The water can flood out the engine, causing it to stall and making it impossible for you to back out.
- If you cannot see the bottom, you have no way of knowing if the road has washed out or not. The result is that you may actually be driving into a deep hole.
- A car can be swept away in water as shallow as 18 inches deep. Swift-moving water exerts a powerful physical force that is difficult to judge.
Sometimes people still get caught in deep water. If you run into deep water and get stuck, but do not sink, try to escape immediately through a window if the water is calm. If you do sink, wait until the pressure equalizes before you try and open a window or door. First get into the back seat where air pockets usually form and kick out the back window. This window is designed to come off fairly easily.
Video: "Driving in Bad Weather"
Some conditions make driving on the roads of New York hazardous due to a number of factors. The most obvious one is probably the weather. Traffic crashes are more common during severe weather conditions, and this is in part because many drivers do not make the necessary adjustments. Watch the following video to see how weather affects your driving, and think about how you would modify your driving behavior.
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As you can see from the video, the weather itself can reduce visibility and traction. For these reasons, you must adapt your driving style to the conditions for your own safety. (Although the video states that we need a minimum following distance of two seconds, we recommend three seconds; chapter 7 has more on following distance.)
Think about the route you normally take when driving to work or school. What are the hazards you usually encounter along this route? What strategies have you used to stay safe?