Recent widespread grass fires in Washington state serve as a deadly reminder of the dangers of highway fog and smoke.
The American Automobile Association (AAA) has used the unfortunate events in Washington state to remind drivers to make the necessary adjustments when they encounter smoke or fog on the highway.
Smoke and fog can act as blinders, making vehicles, pedestrians, and other objects impossible to see until the last minute. This can leave drivers with inadequate time to react or take appropriate corrective measures.
To counter that problem, reducing speed and using low-beam headlights are two of the most important actions drivers can take. Reaction time increases with lower speeds and use of low-beam headlights may help you see more clearly and increase your visibility.
Where you are driving and what type of roadway you are using can affect the influence of smoke and fog on a driver’s risk of being in a fatal accident, says AAA spokesman Jim Hanni. According to a AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study conducted in 2014, fatal crash risk is greater in rural areas than in urban areas. Fog/smoke-related deadly crashes make up almost 2 percent of fatal crashes in rural areas, and less than 1 percent in rural locations.
The study also indicated that the fatal crash risk associated with smoke and fog was greater on two-way undivided roads than on one-way or divided roads.
Number of vehicles involved is another influential factor in regards to smoke/fog-related fatal crashes. In crashes involving a single vehicle, or as few as 2 to 5 vehicles, smoke/fog was a relatively low, but consistent element, being a factor in 1.40 to 1.47 percent of collisions. However, in incidents involving six to nine vehicles, smoke/fog was a factor in 4.37 percent of deadly collisions.
Such collisions are rare- representing only 215 incidents in contrast to 482,000 fatal single-vehicle crashes over the 20-year study period- however, the significant spike in prevalence among multi-vehicle accidents indicates that smoke and fog are indeed risk factors for this gruesome and deadly type of collision.
Although the incidence of deadly smoke/fog-related collisions has been trending downward in the past twenty years, the treacherous ways these conditions seem to influence driver judgements and behaviors indicate that they remain a substantial threat to highway safety.
Smoke and fog should be treated as a significant safety concern due to the increased prevalence of severe multi-vehicle collisions when these conditions are present, and steps should be taken to implement countermeasures to mitigate this deadly risk.
More tips to stay safe in smoky or foggy driving conditions include:
- Using windshield wipers to minimize glare from on-coming headlights
- Using headlights (not just daytime running lamps) so that taillights are also illuminated
- Using emergency flashers (where permitted)
- Avoiding sudden stops
- Pulling safely off the roadway when stopping is necessary
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