While the foggiest place in Canada is Nova Scotia, drivers across the country also must navigate these difficult conditions.
Fog, a thin layer of cloud resting on the ground, can dramatically reduce visibility for drivers. These conditions caused an 87-vehicle pile-up on Sept. 3, 1999, on Highway 401 just outside of Windsor, Ont. Eight people died and 45 were injured.
The crash was so devastating some vehicles had to be traced by their registration numbers, after heat from a large fire fused vehicles together. It was one of the worst traffic pileups in Canadian history and even has its own Wikipedia page.
A ‘stealthier killer’
Even meteorologists at The Weather Network refer to fog as a “stealthier killer” than other flashier weather events and perhaps one of the most underestimated dangers to travel. Near-zero visibility is treacherous - both by car and air. When temperatures dip to the freezing mark, fog can have another deadly by-product: Black ice.
That’s why for drivers, foggy conditions are nothing to ignore.
The Ontario Ministry of Transportation advises that the best thing for motorists to do is to avoid driving in fog when possible. Low visibility increases the chances of a collision, so it’s best for your safety and insurance rates to avoid these conditions. Drivers should check weather forecasts if there is a fog warning and delay the trip until it clears.
If you get caught driving in fog and visibility is decreasing rapidly, move off the road and into a safe parking area to wait for it to lift, the ministry advises. If that is not possible, there are several safe driving tips you should follow. Whether you’re a beginner or experienced, it’s a good idea for everyone to review them.
- Slow down gradually and drive at a speed that suits the conditions.
- Make sure the full lighting system of your vehicle is turned on.
- Use your low-beam headlights. High beams reflect off the moisture droplets in the fog, making it harder to see.
- If your vehicle has fog lights, use them in addition to your low beams.
- Be patient. Avoid passing, changing lanes, and crossing traffic.
- Use pavement markings to help guide you. Use the right edge of the road as a guide, rather than the centre line.
- If you have cruise control, don’t use it. It’s best to have full control over your speed.
- Increase your following distance. You need extra distance to brake safely.
- Look and listen for any hazards that may be ahead.
- Reduce the distractions in your vehicle. Turn off the cell phone and radio. Let your passenger worry about GPS. Your full attention is required.
- Watch for any electronically operated warning signs.
- Keep looking as far ahead as possible.
- Keep your windows and mirrors clean. Use your defroster and wipers to maximize your vision.
- If the fog is too dense to continue, pull completely off the road and try to position your vehicle in a safe parking area. Turn on your emergency flashers, in addition to keeping on your low-beam headlights.
- Don't stop on the travelled part of the road. You could become the first link in a chain-reaction accident.
- Don’t speed up suddenly, even if the fog seems to be clearing. You could find yourself suddenly back in the fog.
- Don't speed up to pass a vehicle moving slowly or to get away from one that is following too closely.
A word about fog lights
Fog lights are exactly what they sound like; special headlights that are used to help the driver see in rain, snow, or fog. These lights help you to see road markings, but will not help you see through the fog. They are only helpful when driving at relatively low speeds.
Fog lights have a sharp cut-off, so they can keep their reach low to the road. When regular headlights are used in foggy weather, the light can reflect off water droplets, back at the driver. This can make it very difficult to see. Fog lights remove this problem, by focusing their light so low. They illuminate the road, under the water droplets. Properly positioned fog lights will project their light 5 to 10 cm off the road surface.
Fog light faux pas
Although there aren’t any specific laws about fog lights in Ontario, there are certain situations when you shouldn’t use them. Using fog lights at night, when it isn’t foggy, can blind other drivers. It is safer to use your low beams instead.
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