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Behind-the-Wheel

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

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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



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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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