Fall is a beautiful season with colorful leaves falling from trees and the noticeable change in the air. For me it's the smell of hot apple cider and the distant sound of Friday night football games that bring back so many memories. To keep everyone safe out there, here are some helpful tips on how to navigate the changing weather and to be safe on the road.
#1 School - As kids go back to school, there is more traffic on the roads early in the morning and mid-afternoon. Many kids wait for the bus in the dark, so be sure to slow down in residential neighborhoods. Here are the rules for school buses flashing their red lights (from the WA State driver's guide page 3-23):
"You must stop for a school bus that is stopped with its red lights flashing whether it is on your side of the road, the opposite side of the road or at an intersection you are approaching. You are not required to stop for a school bus with red lights flashing when the stopped school bus is traveling in the opposite direction and the roadway: – has three or more marked traffic lanes, – is separated by a median, or – is separated by a physical barrier."
#2 Tire Pressure - When temperatures drop so does your tire pressure. An under-inflated tire can be dangerous because more of your tread is touching the ground and that causes more friction. This will wear out your tires faster and can cause the tread to separate and increases the chance of a blowout. Be sure to keep your tires filled to the manufacturer’s recommendation, and if you're unsure most tire shops will check and fill them for free. (Just don't drink their coffee and eat all their popcorn, too, you cheapskate!)
# 3 Fog - It's surprising how you'll be enjoying a pleasant sunny September one day and then the fog will be there the next morning, seemingly out of nowhere. When navigating the fog, slow down. Studies have shown the human brain overcompensates for the lack of visibility and drivers actually drive faster in the fog, weird I know. For headlights, use low beams and/or fog lights. High beams reflect back and actually decrease your visibility in most cases. If you need to use a guide, follow the white lines on the right side on the road. Using the center line as your guide will cause you to move closer to the middle and oncoming vehicles. And finally, maintain plenty of following distant. You don't ever want to be involved in the middle of multi-car pileup (caused by fog and stupid drivers).
# 4 Rain - Yes, Washington drivers know this one all too well. That first big rain of the year can be almost as dangerous as ice. The oils that have been burnt onto the road during the summer heat, are now bubbling up and causing slippery havoc. After that first big rain, a lot of it washes away. However, slow down around those corners, which is precisely where many new drivers get into their first crash.
#5 Frost - As we approach the winter, there will be mornings when temperatures drop to freezing levels and create dangerous conditions. Again, careful on the corners, as this is where many people lose traction. There was a time during college when I was driving on I-5 and I started to fish-tail. Luckily, it was a straight stretch of road and by letting off the gas, and steering in the direction I wanted to go, I was able to regain control. It seemingly came out of nowhere, however it was over a bridge so I shouldn't have been surprised. Unlike regular roads, bridges have cold air flowing underneath increasing the likelihood of freezing.
If you haven’t ever experienced a skid and don't know how to control one, skid training is a great tool. Otherwise go to a big empty frozen parking lot and experience it first-hand (just don't let your school principal or church pastor catch you, they might make you power wash off the skid marks).