Smoke and blowing dust can be deadly game changers for drivers

Submitted by Shawn Steward

With the extremely dry, windy conditions this spring leading to grass fires and blowing dust across the state, AAA Kansas reminds motorists to make adjustments when encountering reduced visibility on roadways. On other days this spring, fog has created limited visibility for drivers across the Sunflower State as well.

Driving in smoke, dust or fog can feel like driving while wearing a blindfold. Objects, such as other vehicles or traffic signals, may not be visible until the last moment – sometimes too late to take proper corrective action.

“The two most important safety measures when you are driving in smoke, dust or fog are to slow down and turn on your low-beam headlights,” said Shawn Steward, AAA Kansas spokesman. “By reducing speed, you increase available reaction time. And driving with your low-beam headlights on helps you to see the roadway more clearly and allows other drivers to see you.”

Tips for driving in smoke, dust or fog

• Do not drive into thick, dense smoke, dust or fog that severely limits visibility. Take an alternate route or safely pull off the roadway to wait for conditions to pass.

• Reduce speed to a rate where you can properly see other vehicles and traffic sign/signals and have time to react or stop, if needed.

• Turn on low-beam headlights so you can see and be seen.

• If your vehicle is equipped with daytime running lights (DRLs), you may need to manually turn on your headlights, so your tail lights will also be illuminated.

• Avoid sudden stops – and remember that larger vehicles need more distance to slow down or stop.

• If you must stop, steer off the roadway as far as safely possible and turn on your flashing hazard lights.

“According to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, variations in the prevalence of fog- and smoke-related fatal crashes are also seen when looking at land use and roadway type,” Steward said. “Prevalence is greater in rural areas – where such crashes account for nearly 2 percent of fatal crashes – than in urban ones, where less than 1 percent of fatal crashes are accounted for by fog.”

Additionally, undivided, two-way roadways – like the many that criss-cross Kansas – see a greater share of fog- and smoke-related crashes than do divided or one-way roads.

Another pattern seen in the national data with regard to fog- and smoke-related crashes pertains to the number of vehicles involved. For single-vehicle fatal crashes, as well as fatal crashes involving two to five vehicles, the prevalence of fog as a factor is relatively low and fairly consistent, ranging from 1.4 percent to 1.47 percent.

For crashes involving six to nine vehicles, however, the prevalence more than triples, to 4.37 percent. While such crashes are indeed rare (215 occurred over the 20-year study period, compared with more than 482,000 fatal single-vehicle crashes), the alarming spike in prevalence suggests that fog and smoke are indeed risk factors for this horrific and lethal crash type.

Despite the relatively low prevalence of fog- and smoke-related fatal and police-reported crashes, and a general decreasing trend in such crashes over the past two decades, fog and smoke remain significant threats to highway safety given the ways in which these conditions appear to impact driver perceptions and behaviors.

“Given the increased likelihood of crashes in the presence of fog, blowing dust and smoke – and, most troubling, the increase in severe and multi-vehicle crashes – these conditions should be treated as serious safety concerns, and efforts should be made to continue developing and evaluating countermeasures targeting the issue,” Steward said.


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