How to react to heavy smoke or fog when driving?

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How to react to heavy smoke or fog when driving?

Post by AnonEmous » Mon Jan 30, 2012 1:30 pm

The recent, massive highway crash in Florida which appeared to start because of a brush fire prompted me to think about how to react in such a situation.

The story can be found here. Essentially, a brush fire which presumably impeaded visability caused the massive crash involving dozens of cars that left 10 dead.

What is a/the proper reaction when encountering heavy fog or smoke or anything else that obscures visability? Beyond slowing down, what are the options?

- immediately turn on running lights/ emergency blinkers (without turning on headlights or high beams)
- slow down and pull off to the median?
- slow down and pull off to the shoulder?
- slow down, pull off somewhere to the side of the shoulder, and stop?

On a side note, I have read and know through practical experience, low-beams or less light is better in heavy fog or smoke than high beams, because the particles in fog or smoke reflect back most of the light, obscuring visability even more.

Of course, the correct reaction is based on the other drivers' reactions, which means there may not be any one best answer.

Any practical insights, examples, or strategies are appreciated.
Last edited by AnonEmous on Tue Jan 31, 2012 6:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: How to react to heavy smoke or fog when driving?

Post by Braxton » Mon Jan 30, 2012 1:54 pm


Turn on your flashers.

DO NOT STOP unless it is absolutely unavoidable.

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How to react to heavy smoke or fog when driving?

Post by wee drop o' bush » Mon Jan 30, 2012 2:09 pm

Slow your speed, but keep going at a steady pace.

Keep a braking distance of at least two cars.

Switch on fog-lights if you have them.

Dip the main beam.

Ignore any toots from impatient drivers. Let them drive recklessly if they're so hell bent on doing so.

If you have to stop make sure you're pulling over to a safe area. Be aware of the surroundings.

Keep'll probably be through the worst in 15 minutes.
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Re: How to react to heavy smoke or fog when driving?

Post by Jamie » Mon Jan 30, 2012 2:26 pm

Never stop in a travel lane.
Drive slowly enough to allow for stopping within the distance you can see.
Run your hazard-lights/blinkers, and avoid using high beams.
Don't speed up just because some asshole behind you want you to go faster.

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Re: How to react to heavy smoke or fog when driving?

Post by Tater Raider » Mon Jan 30, 2012 2:39 pm

Don't drive faster than you can stop!!!

If you can only see 100', you need to be able to stop within 100'.

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Re: How to react to heavy smoke or fog when driving?

Post by congochris » Mon Jan 30, 2012 2:47 pm

Tater Raider wrote:Don't drive faster than you can stop!!!

If you can only see 100', you need to be able to stop within 100'.
To add to this even though some of us may think this is obvious: Be sure to factor in reaction time as well, not just braking distance.

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Re: How to react to heavy smoke or fog when driving?

Post by williaty » Tue Jan 31, 2012 1:56 am

While the official recommendation is to turn your rear fogs and/or hazards on in severely bad weather, several researchers into human vision I know think this is absolutely stupid. Their argument, and it rings true to me, is that the more bright lights you put out the rear of the car, especially the more BLINKING lights you put out the back of the car, the more of a target you make yourself. People are drawn to sources of light, especially sources of light that are changing. This will make them target lock on your rear end. Couple this with their nervousness, and they're going to try to herd tightly. Since the visibility is so bad, it's unlikely they can accurately judge how far away from you they are and what the closing velocity is. So they're target locked on your ass and may not know that they're only 3 car lengths behind you moving 20mph faster than you are. Boom.

Anyway, what to do about fog/smoke largely depends on day or night. Also, I'm assuming HEAVY fog/smoke, the kind where seeing the road in front of your hood is hard. If during the day, get the car as far the hell off the road as you can, even if this means you're going to get stuck and have to work to get out later. You want to be far enough off the road that someone having a crash is unlikely to slide all the way to you. With sunlight "in" the fog/smoke, there's really nothing you can do to produce an acceptable sight distance. The sunlight makes the fog flare up and completely destroys your ability to see the light bouncing off of objects in front of you. If it's happening at night, the correct on-vehicle lighting can make a big difference and allow safe, if very slow, travel.

In fog/smoke, the only thing that matters is the angular separation between your light source and your eyes. The beam of light leaving your headlights is preferentially scattered back directly towards its source. If you and the light source are close together in angle, that means you're right in the worst part of the backscatter. This is the glowing white ball effect you get from high-beams in fog. You need to get you and your light source as far apart in angle as possible. On a car, this means move the fog lights down towards the ground. If your fog lights are higher than the bottom edge of your bumper, you're doing it wrong. The lower, the better you'll be able to see. I have my car wired so that I can turn out all the lighting on the front end of the car except for the fog lights for when it gets really bad. It's not uncommon to go from seeing 2 car lengths with the low beams on to being able to see 20yds with only the fog lights on. That's a BIG improvement in your safety.

Note that I really am talking heavy-duty superfog here. We get fog here so bad that I've had to drive home with one side of the car off on the soft shoulder so I could hear when I got to a driveway. I'd get out and inspect the pavement in the driveway to see if it looked like mine. There's times I've been withing 500yds of my driveway for half an hour before I've been able to find it. It has been bad enough that I've roped myself to my car when I attempted to walk from the car in the driveway to the front door so I could find my way back if I got lost trying to find the house.

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Re: How to react to heavy smoke or fog when driving?

Post by xLionx » Tue Jan 31, 2012 4:44 pm

If you plan to pull off the road, Turn off your lights/hazards before you start, other wise the cars behind you will follow you off the road thinking that you are just turning with the road, and cause a worse mess

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Re: How to react to heavy smoke or fog when driving?

Post by raptor » Tue Jan 31, 2012 4:53 pm

Tater Raider wrote:Don't drive faster than you can stop!!!

If you can only see 100', you need to be able to stop within 100'.

We had a similar incident here for the same reasons. You need to slow down get into the right lane and be prepared to swerve onto the shoulder of the road if necessary. DO NOT STOP IN A TRAVEL LANE. Slow down but do not stop. Dim your headlights and if necessary for reasons of vision run with only your parking lights on or better yet use your fog lights.

I would rather get hit from behind by a vehicle traveling marginally faster than me (say 20 MPH) than hit a stopped vehicle in front of me at 45 MPH. Obviously I would prefer not to get hit.

If you can avoid it, again avoid it, but odds are you are into the middle of it before you realize how bad it is. Slow down and keep alert. Not a lot more you can do...maybe pray a little. :wink:

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Re: How to react to heavy smoke or fog when driving?

Post by Tperkins » Tue Jan 31, 2012 5:14 pm

This is the second accident of this type/magnitude in Florida. While this one has a lower total number of wrecked vehicles, the death toll is more than double. Here's a link to the other one if anyone was wondering." onclick=";return false;

I'd pretty much just restate what people have said above about driving slow and use of low beams or such. For those that dont have, dont want, or cant (lifted jeep) have low-beam type headlights, amber colored filters will help WONDERS to those with lights able to attach them so. Lightforce, Warn, and Rigid Industries all make filters for their lights (Warn has built in filters). I would turn my hazards on; I know there are some 'studies' that talk about how lights attract people and yadda yadda, but I honestly think their understanding and testing is flawed, but not the main idea. In a low-visablity situation, warning lights, strobes, rotators, hazards, ect provide warning use to those without the common sense to slow down, as well as for at night and in traffic. Something must be used to attract the motorists eye. However, for example, use of a TON of lights at night, on a high brightness setting, is unnessescary to be that distracting. I dont know, I just dont fully agree with them. The point of emergency lighting is to draw attention to them, so why would you wish to make that the problem? I sure as hell wouldnt want to be trying to drive an ambulance through rush hour traffic to the ER with a single dash light and a siren...just saying.
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Re: How to react to heavy smoke or fog when driving?

Post by eugene » Tue Jan 31, 2012 6:48 pm

I have had to drive partly by feel a couple times, first I was 18 and had went to a competition through school and was driving home around midnight up the narrow winding wv road over the mountain. They rarely have lines on the edges of the roads and the center lines are usually faded. I could barely make out the bug deflector on my hood, had to roll down the window and stick my haed partly out and look down at the road and watch what yellow lines I could see. When the yellow lines disapppeared I just would go slow and feel when the passenger tires started to drop off the pavement, there are no berms the pavemwnt ends at the edge of the driving lane.
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Re: How to react to heavy smoke or fog when driving?

Post by Paladin1 » Tue Jan 31, 2012 8:20 pm

Put out the spliff and roll down the windows.

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Re: How to react to heavy smoke or fog when driving?

Post by RickOShea » Tue Jan 31, 2012 8:59 pm

I think the 200 vehicle pile-up we had here in '95 is still the record for the U.S. (due to fog on the I-10 Bayway).

Stay away from the 18-wheelers. Getting in behind one may seem like a good idea because it'll act like a battering ram if you come upon a wreck......But if you're still behind it and another vehicle hits you from behind..... :gonk:
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Re: How to react to heavy smoke or fog when driving?

Post by Freak » Mon Feb 06, 2012 8:37 pm

If at all possible never ever go into the medium! You may find yourself contending with traffic from the other direction. If your vehicle needs to be recovred it is more dangerous because of the smaller shoulder. If your not stopped don't use your flashers! Don't ride your breaks! It's hard to judge distance and thus relitive speed, if you are riding your breaks, the car behind you will have a longer reaction time when you actully use them! And turn your running lights on, I can't believe how many people fail to do this.
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