As part of a project to determine how bad weather contributes to causing serious crashes, the Federal Highway Administrating determined that between 2007 and 2016, foggy conditions existed at the time of an average of 25,451 each year. Those fog-related wrecks led to an average of 8,902 injuries and 464 deaths.
The problem is that fog can descend suddenly, reducing visibility for drivers to zero. Some people continue on as if nothing has changed, while others inadvertently create risks for collisions by trying to race out of the fog bank or by stopping at unsafe places along the road.
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Commercial truck drivers are particularly prone to getting trapped by fog. They take the road at night and early in the morning when fog is most likely to develop, and they are committed to meeting tight delivery deadlines that may not allow for exiting the highway until visibility improves. An illustration of the life-threatening danger this creates in Virginia comes from Pittsylvania County.
A tractor-trailer operator attempted a left turn across a rural highway, cutting off an oncoming car that the trucker never saw. The woman in the car survived but went to the hospital for treatment of serious injuries.
Schneider, a leading trucking company that also trains thousands of long-haul truckers each year, offers the following advice for avoiding crashes while operating in foggy conditions:
- Slow down even on roads you travel frequently. Earlier crashes can be hidden in the fog bank, and you may have very little time to stop or change lanes once you spot the wreckage.
- Keep your headlights on low and switch on your fog lights (which large commercial trucks are required to have). Do this even if the sun is up. A lot of avoiding a collision in a fog bank comes down to ensuring that other drivers can see your vehicle.
- Engage your emergency flashers. Doing this makes it easier for drivers approaching from behind to see you.
- Watch for vehicles whose drivers have pulled onto the shoulder or into the median. Orient yourself on the center lane divider. Many drivers who stop along the highway will leave their headlights and taillights on, so you cannot trust that the lights ahead of you indicate vehicles that are in motions.
- Pay particular attention to the center line reflectors. The embedded reflectors will serve as a good guide as you navigate curves in the road.
- Use your windshield wipers and defroster. It can also help to crack a window and switch to the AC setting even if you are running the heat. Air conditioning removes humidity, which prevents your windows from fogging over.
- Change lanes and pass other vehicles only when doing so is absolutely necessary. Visibility in your mirrors and through your side windows will be even more limited than your visibility ahead. Also, you will have trouble seeing and aligning your vehicle with lines marking shoulders and medians.
- Avoid stopping along the side of the road. When at all possible, take an exit. If you must pull onto the shoulder or median, engage your hazard flashers.
Everyone behind the wheel of any vehicle will do much to protect themselves and others on the road by adhering to this advice when fog reduces visibility. Commercial truck drivers have a particular duty to take these precautions because the size and weight of their rigs pose a great danger to the lives of anyone they hit.
Importantly, law enforcement officers and auto insurance companies do not treat weather as independent cause of truck crashes. Drivers have legal duties and personal responsibilities to control their vehicles no matter whether it is raining, snowing or foggy. A driver, passenger, pedestrian or bike rider who gets hit and hurt by a commercial truck driver will often have grounds for filing a personal injury claim regardless of the weather conditions.