Inclement weather significantly increases the risks associated with driving. In this guide to driving in bad weather, we highlight the dangers of extreme conditions and provide practical tips to help you stay safe on the road and avoid a potentially life-threatening accident.
The Dangers of Driving in Bad Weather
How prevalent are accidents caused by bad weather conditions? According to the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI), a reported motor vehicle crash occurs on Texas roads approximately every 56 seconds, and more than 10% — nearly sixty thousand crashes — are due to severe weather conditions.
The reduced visibility and slippery surfaces accompanying rain, snow, fog, and ice create hazardous road conditions that can challenge even the most experienced drivers, increasing the risk of a devastating accident.
But what dangers do motorists need to look for when driving in bad weather?
Slick Roads and Decreased Visibility
Weather conditions like hail, fog, rain, and high winds compromise visibility while driving. Snow and rain can make it hard to see other vehicles, pedestrians, and hazards and create slippery conditions, increasing the risk of motorists skidding and losing control of their vehicles.
Even the most skilled driver can struggle to stop their car when they lose grip, especially when traveling at high speeds or navigating sharp turns.
High winds and storms can deposit debris on roadways, from fallen branches and garbage cans to uprooted trees. These conditions are especially dangerous when visibility is poor, as a driver might not see a hazard until it’s too late.
Reckless and Negligent Drivers
Drivers owe a duty of care to one another on the road, but not all drivers take the right precautions when driving in bad weather. Sometimes, this is due to ignorance — for example, drivers might maintain a normal speed and not realize they should slow down. In other scenarios, motorists are downright reckless and might speed up or take unnecessary risks to get to their destination as quickly as possible, even though it poses significant danger to others on the road.
Inclement weather often affects traffic flow. Wintry conditions can create a build-up of snow, while heavy rain can cause flooded roads from improper drainage. Motorists should be prepared for roads to be more congested than usual, making it even more vital to take precautions to avoid a crash.
Vehicles aren’t immune to nature. Rain and snow can deteriorate tire health, increasing the risk of a blowout, while cold snaps can affect a car’s battery, cause oil to thicken, and damage your engine. You should check your vehicle thoroughly before heading out on the road and be prepared to pull over if your vehicle makes unusual noises, your brakes feel spongy, or your car otherwise feels “off,” as it could be a sign of an imminent failure.
Bad Weather Driving Tips
According to TDI’s fact sheet on driving in bad weather:
- Rain accounts for over 85% of weather-related roadway crashes in Texas.
- Fog contributed to 193 crashes and 72 deaths on Texas roads in 2019.
You cannot control the weather, and it might not be realistic to avoid driving in inclement weather altogether, but you can control how you react. Following these driving tips will help you minimize the risk of an accident.
Plan Ahead: Tips before Getting on the Road in Bad Weather
Consider the Urgency
Before driving in bad weather, the first question you should ask is, do you really need to? Consider working from home, ordering groceries online, and rescheduling non-urgent appointments. If a trip can wait, it’s wise to put it off until conditions improve.
Plan Your Trip
If you have to venture out on the road, check weather updates on your TV, radio, or a dedicated weather app on your cell phone, paying attention to warnings or accident alerts along your intended route. Plan an alternate route, if possible, to avoid dangerous roads, such as country lanes with limited artificial light. If you have to travel to work or an appointment, set out earlier to account for congestion and driving slowly, providing plenty of time to reach your destination on time and safely.
You should also tell a friend or loved one if you’re planning a long drive or venturing out in particularly hazardous conditions. Ensure they know where you’re going, how you plan to get there, and when you’ll be back.
Check Your Vehicle
There’s no substitute for a professional inspection, but a few basic checks can flag any potential issues before you head out. Assess your tire pressures and tread, looking for signs of significant wear. You should also check your headlights, taillights, and indicators are working properly, ensure you’re not running low on oil, and check your coolant and brake fluids are at the required levels. Finally, don’t neglect your windshield wipers. Older wipers can be brittle and may not effectively clear heavy rainfall, impacting visibility.
Pack an Emergency Kit
Just as you never want to be in an accident, you likely don’t want to end up stranded on the road, but it’s wise to prepare for the worst, and it could save your life in extreme cold or wintry conditions.
Examples of emergency items to pack include a first-aid kit with bandages, antiseptic wipes, over-the-counter pain relief, and medical tape; a blanket, jumper cable, toolkit, flashlight, and ice scraper. Don’t forget to make a note of emergency contact details in case your cell phone battery dies or you’re injured, and another party needs to notify a friend or loved one, and consider packing a water bottle and non-perishable snacks such as crackers or energy bars to help you stay hydrated and keep your energy levels up if you’re stranded for several hours.
Remember, an emergency kit is only effective if you can use it. Inspect your kit regularly and replace items as you use them, such as if you’ve taken painkillers for a headache while traveling in normal road conditions. Check your flashlight battery and consider packing spares — alternatively, you may want to invest in a crank-powered light. If you’ve packed food, check the freshness and replace any items with an expired use-by date.
On the Road: Safety Tips for Navigating the Road in Bad Weather
You’ve prepared your route, inspected your vehicle, and packed an emergency kit, and now it’s time to head out on the road. Follow these tips to navigate tricky road conditions with confidence.
Maintain a Gap
It’s good practice to maintain a three-second gap to the vehicle ahead in normal driving conditions. This three-second rule, as it’s known, ensures you have ample time to react if there’s a crash up ahead or a driver makes a sudden movement. But, there’s an even greater need to watch your stopping distance in severe weather. Slippery roads make it harder for vehicles to stop effectively, putting drivers at greater risk of sustaining injuries in rear-end collisions.
When driving in inclement weather, it’s wise to aim for a gap of five or six seconds. To do this, identify a stationary object like a sign or a tree and start counting when the vehicle ahead passes it. You should pass the same stationary point when you reach five or six.
Take It Slow
Driving at the legal speed limit can be dangerous in inclement weather, so it’s vital to slow down. Maintaining a reduced speed gives you more time to react to hazards and allows you to stay in control. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration advises reducing your speed by as much as a third when bad weather impacts your visibility, so watch out for road signs, as speed limits can vary.
A new law implemented on September 1, 2023, allows Texas Department of Transport (TxDOT) engineers to drop speed limits by as much as ten miles per hour in inclement weather without approval from statewide transportation commissioners. Drivers are notified of such changes via stationary or portable signs.
What to Do If You Lose Grip
Skidding while driving is common in rainy conditions, and it can be a nerve-wracking experience, but knowing how to respond can help you regain control.
While your instinct might be to panic, try to stay calm, keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road, and avoid slamming the brakes. What you should do next depends on the type of slide you encounter.
Understeering happens when you turn the steering wheel, but your vehicle doesn’t respond as expected and continues on a straight trajectory. Understeering at the wrong time can cause you to veer off the road into obstacles such as trees or parked cars. To regain control, steadily decrease your speed. Avoid fully steering into the skid and instead make tiny adjustments in one direction and then the other.
The opposite of understeering, oversteering is when you make a turn, and the rear end of your vehicle slides out more than intended. Again, reduce your speed and gently steer toward the skid. Avoid sudden movements or over-corrections, which can create a pendulum-like effect.
Acceleration slides can happen when you’re traveling too fast on an icy surface, causing tire spin. The goal is to reduce wheel spin and slow to a halt — ease off the throttle and shift to a higher gear to regain control.
When your vehicle slides, it’s vital to apply the right type of pressure, which varies depending on the type of brakes in your vehicle. If you have anti-lock brakes, apply steady but firm pressure. If you have non-anti-lock brakes, pump the brakes by quickly pressing and releasing the pedal.
Your Options for Compensation after a Bad Weather Driving Accident
If injured in an accident caused by bad weather, you might be entitled to compensation for your injuries and property damage. You should check your auto insurance policy to see what your policy covers and how a claim will affect your future premiums.
You may also be able to pursue compensation from another party. To do this, you must identify the party responsible for causing your accident. These claims can be challenging — you cannot hold another driver liable for rain or snow, but bad weather alone does not absolve negligent individuals from responsibility. Motorists owe a duty of care to one another and are expected to take precautions when driving in inclement weather.
A driver can be liable if they fail to slow down or act recklessly — such as by speeding, engaging in road rage, or tailgating — and their behavior causes your accident.
If you’re injured in a bad weather driving accident, it’s vital to consult a personal injury attorney. They can examine your accident and determine if you have a claim.
See if you have a claim by booking a free, no-obligation case review with our San Antonio and McAllen personal injury lawyer. Call 855-LAW-NINJA, send us a message, or let us know where you are, and we’ll come to you. We serve the entire Rio Grande Valley and central Texas and are available 24/7. We work on a contingency basis, so you only pay legal fees when we win your case.