Driving safely in the fog

It's night and I'm driving into the grey cotton of fog caused by a lingering temperature inversion.

Vision is limited, the roads are wet, it's just a few degrees above freezing and some of the traffic to my left is driving like it's a sunny afternoon in August.

As they whoosh by me nose to tail at speeds exceeding the posted limit, I marvel at what I imagine is their ability to see so much better than I can.

I also admire their ability to anticipate and use quick reflexes to get themselves out of trouble if something unexpected happens ahead.

As of today, ICBC will probably have received reports of more than a quarter of a million collisions so far in 2017.

About 85 per cent of the information that we need to drive comes through our eyes. Darkness and fog limit our ability to see which means we may suffer from a lack of data to make decisions from.

Speed limits the time available to process data. The faster you drive, the less time you have to consider and react to what that limited data is telling you.

Following too closely in conditions that reduce your ability to brake and steer on top of all of this is simply asking for trouble.

When it is foggy enough to limit our ability to see properly when driving, the first question that we need to ask ourselves is:

  • "Do I really need to make this trip?"

If the answer is no, then putting the journey off to another time could be a really wise choice.

If we have to travel, the next consideration might involve a decision on which route to take. Using the freeway might not be your best choice as city streets will have slower, safer travel speeds.

Turn on all your vehicle's lights. Do it by setting your headlight switch in the on position, not the auto position.

I've learned by observation that on a foggy day the auto position of my vehicle's headlight switch will result in a lack of taillights.

There is enough diffuse light to trick the system into thinking it is bright enough to use just the daytime running lights and it shuts off the taillights, leaving me unprotected from behind.

If your vehicle is equipped with front or rear fog lights, now is the time to use them.

You must choose an appropriate travel speed, keeping in mind that you have to be able to come to a full stop in slightly less distance than you can actually see. Erring on the side of caution by traveling more slowly is a wise choice.

Keep your eyes moving. We have an unconscious tendency to travel toward the things that we stare at.

Maintaining proper lane position is critical. The prevailing wisdom suggests that you use the solid white line or pavement edge to your right rather than the centre line of the roadway.

Finally, if visibility becomes so poor that you can no longer see well enough to drive you've become trapped in a situation where your darned if you do and darned if you don't.

Continuing on may result in a crash, but slowing down too much may mean being hit from behind.

Should you decide to stop, get as far off of the road as possible. If you decide to remain in your vehicle, keep your seatbelts fastened to minimize injury if you are hit by another vehicle.

Story URL: https://www.drivesmartbc.ca/miscellaneous/driving-safely-fog

ICBC wants your help

It was a busy week in B.C. for road safety related announcements by our provincial government.

ICBC announced a distracted driving technology pilot project, dangerous drivers may expect to be subject to longer periods of driving prohibition, the CounterAttack program turns 40 years old and the investigation of cognitively impaired drivers will no longer include DriveABLE testing.

Would you like to participate in a telematics pilot project? ICBC will be looking for 200 volunteers willing to connect their smartphones to their vehicles via an app and a dongle that plugs onto the OBD port.

The app will block the use of the phone when the vehicle is being driven.

Applicants for the project will be selected from ICBC's Customer Advisory Panel. You are invited to become a member and share your opinions, even if you are not recruited for this test.

Also included in the technology pilot will be the use of Laser Technology Incorporated's TruSpeed SXB with the LaserSoft SpeedCapture app.

The device and software are intended to capture an image of the distracted driver at an observation point. The image can then be shared with the officer at the point where the driver is stopped who can then show the evidence along with issuing a ticket.

The same system will also be able to show evidence of speeding when the system is used for speed enforcement.

If you are a street racer, like to do stunt driving on our highways or participate in other high risk driving behaviours such as excessive speeding or driving without due care and attention, you may expect a longer driving prohibition from RoadSafetyBC if caught.

“The drivers posing the greatest risk to people’s lives are often caught repeatedly, and that tells us they aren’t taking the consequences seriously,” said Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth.

Some prohibited drivers continue to drive, even in the face of significant penalties. The use of Automated Licence Plate Recognition by police has made these drivers much easier to find and be held to account.

Mandatory vehicle impoundment, regardless of who owns the vehicle, will immediately eliminate the ability to drive in the short term and civil fForfeiture could provide a longer-term solution in significant cases.

We've made progress to end alcohol impaired driving since the CounterAttack program began in 1977, reducing the average annual death toll from over 300 to the current level of 65 people.

In the face of anticipated changes to our laws surrounding marijuana and widespread use of drugs other than alcohol in our society, it's probably time to change the reference to drunk driving and include all drugs that impair a driver's ability.

ICBC's special event permit kit is available to order for free for party hosts planning to serve alcohol, encouraging guests to not drink and drive.

Finally, it appears that older drivers no longer need to fear a computer based DriveABLE assessment beginning on March 1, 2018.

Testing of medically or cognitively impaired drivers will be conducted by ICBC in an Enhanced Road Assessment. RoadSafetyBC's Information Guide outlines the process.

It appears that the Class 5 road test will be modified "incorporating new components to assess driving errors that may result from cognitive impairment and other areas of medical concern."

The test is conducted in the driver's own vehicle and will "gradually increase the complexity of driving tasks, provide a break and feedback midway through, and have clear parameters for ending an assessment early if necessary, all to help maximize safety in real-world driving conditions."

Story URL: https://www.drivesmartbc.ca/distracted-driving/its-been-busy-week

And there was more light

Headlight systems can be complex to police

In my time as a driver, I've seen headlight technology progress from tungsten filament glass sealed beams to quartz halogen, high intensity discharge and now LED and even laser.

There is more light on the road today from the driver's point of view than there has ever been. While that can be a good thing if all that light is coming from your vehicle, it might not be so great if you are the one facing it.

Way back when, sealed beams tended to be dimmer and more yellowish. They were not that bright in comparison to modern systems, but a driver failing to dim them was more nuisance than hazard. It was also easy to overdrive their illumination.

Quartz halogen introduced a brighter, whiter light with a filament that would last longer too. Initially, they came in a sealed beam, but progressed to a housing with a replaceable bulb.

The light that they emitted was more controlled and often had an obvious pattern. They could throw more light down the road on low beam and increase your margin of safety.

High intensity discharge (HID) lamps replace the tungsten filament with a tube of gas that glowed brightly when high voltage electricity was passed through it. These were efficient and could emit a lot of light in the visible part of the spectrum in comparison to filament bulbs.

HID does have drawbacks, emitting light that tends to be bluer, which we may see as producing more glare. As they age, the light emitted tends to be even bluer.

LED is efficient and can be mechanically or digitally controlled to direct light where it is needed and changes can occur in milliseconds.

Laser headlights (currently high beam only) direct laser light onto a phosphor that then glows and is emitted by the headlight.

In North America, the Society of Automotive Engineers sets the standards for vehicle lighting. The federal government incorporates these standards into the Motor Vehicle Safety Act and Regulations to control how the vehicles on our highways are built.

British Columbia enacts provincial legislation to insure that lighting systems continue to be used and maintained to these standards.

Policing these rules can be complex. The tungsten sealed beam system was simple and from a policing point of view it was pretty much a working/not working determination.

Replaceable tungsten halogen bulbs started the requirement for police and facility vehicle inspectors to have more detailed knowledge.

Over wattage bulbs, tinted lenses, or their replacement with either HID or LED assemblies that fit but were not designed to allow the housings that contained them to distribute their light properly became a common nuisance.

It is now simple to purchase all manner of lighting on line that is marked to masquerade as meeting standards or is not marked, much less meeting any standard at all.

There is no guarantee that any of these items will produce the proper light that you need to see with or won't be dangerous for other drivers that you share the road with.

To counter this, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure publishes an inspection and approval protocol for vehicle lighting. While this may be practical to use in a designated inspection facility, it does serve to help police at the roadside determine that problems may exist.

When there is a valid suspicion the most effective policing tool may be to order the vehicle to a designated inspection facility for closer scrutiny.

Story URL: https://www.drivesmartbc.ca/equipment/headlight-systems-can-be-complex-police


Want to be dead right?

I was a bit taken aback after reading a discussion on Twitter the other day.

The conversation was between a driver and a pedestrian who seemed to hold opposite points of view.

The pedestrian felt that he should not have to wear reflective clothing and carry a flashlight to be seen at night.

The driver countered with the warning that if you can't be seen, you can't be given the right of way. Wearing protective clothing was a wise thing to do.

Our rule book, the Motor Vehicle Act, defines how drivers and pedestrians must relate to each other when they use our highways. 

If there is a sidewalk on one or both sides of the highway, a pedestrian must not walk on the roadway. They may choose not to use the sidewalk if they walk on the shoulder.

This exception would allow a pedestrian to walk on the side of the highway, outside of the path of vehicles, if the sidewalk is on the opposite side of the road for their chosen direction of travel.

Depending on how far you are walking, it may make sense to cross over and use the sidewalk when there is only one. Chances are greater that drivers will expect you to be there.

If there are no sidewalks, pedestrians must walk on the left side of the highway, using the shoulder or extreme left side of the roadway.

Here is where I pause.

The law says that pedestrians may use the extreme left side of the roadway in some circumstances. This is a place where I dare say that drivers might feel that they are entitled and pedestrians are not. These drivers may be wrong, but in a collision they win.

As a pedestrian, do you want to be dead right?

When we reach an intersection, pedestrians in crosswalks who are following the directions of the appropriate traffic signal must be granted the right of way to cross.

If they entered the crosswalk lawfully when signals are present, they have right of way to complete the crossing, even after the signals have changed.

Strangely, many people do not consider a T to be an intersection while they will readily agree that an X is. Either configuration is a proper intersection.

If a pedestrian is crossing the highway anywhere other than in a crosswalk, they must yield the right of way to vehicles. In fact, municipal bylaws may prohibit crossing the street outside of a crosswalk.

Crosswalks may be marked or unmarked, but they always exist at intersections.

If it is necessary, the rules say that drivers must sound their vehicle's horn to warn pedestrians of their approach.

Ultimately, a driver must always exercise due care to avoid colliding with a pedestrian who is on the highway.

It's not all one sided. Pedestrians have duties toward drivers too.

You must not walk or run out in front of a vehicle when it is not practical for the driver to yield the right of way. Remember this when you step into a crosswalk. If there are lines painted on the roadway, they will not protect you from your bad decision.

Pedestrians cannot be on the roadway to hitch-hike (except in case of an emergency), solicit business or employment from the occupant of a vehicle. Hitch-hiking from the shoulder is permitted, except on freeways. 

Having said all of this, we make mistakes, even when we are trying very hard not to. These rules are an effort to minimize mistakes.

When it makes sense, we wear all sorts of protective clothing and use other safety tools. I was never without my yellow jacket with reflective stripes and a flashlight when I worked on the road at night.

Just because you can see the driver does not mean that the driver can see you.

Story URL: https://www.drivesmartbc.ca/pedestrians/pedestrians-vs-drivers

More Behind the Wheel articles

About the Author

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. He has been writing his column for most of the 20 years of his service in the RCMP.

The column was 'The Beat Goes On' in Fort St. John, 'Traffic Tips' in the South Okanagan and now 'Behind the Wheel' on Vancouver Island and here on Castanet.net.

Schewe retired from the force in January of 2006, but the column has become a habit, and continues.

To comment, please email

To learn more, visit DriveSmartBC

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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