It’s funny how chaotic driving can become as soon as the weather turns a bit nasty. Drivers who are normally exemplars of driving safely on a sunny day can seem to lose their senses at exactly the time when a calm head and considered judgments are most important.
In any weather, driving safely (or riding safely on a motorbike) is a complex skill that requires concentration, clear thinking and situational awareness. But when conditions take a turn for the worse, a driver has to make good decisions in more difficult circumstances with less visual information available. This puts more pressure on a driver and it seems that many struggle to cope with that.
Spend time on the roads in rain, fog or snow and you will see some crazy moves being pulled. Often it is the sort of dangerous driving you would never see in clear, dry weather, so why do some people feel the need to drive like kamikazes when the conditions become more treacherous? [Note: if you feel that everyone else drives too slowly in bad weather, you may be the one I am talking about here…]
Drive to the conditions, not the speed limit
Common sense suggests that when your visibility is reduced by darkness, rain or anything else, you should reduce your speed somewhat to make sure you can see what’s coming with enough time to react. Yet it continually surprises me to see other cars stubbornly sticking to their normal speed – or even speeding up – with no regard for the increased risks.
A speed limit is a maximum speed, not a minimum or a target. Like most people, I am sure that speed limits are far too arbitrary in far too many places, and set for the lowest common denominator drivers who shouldn’t even have a driving licence, but that doesn’t mean you should be rigidly sticking to the speed limit in any weather.
It’s perfectly OK to slow down a bit and give yourself more room to the cars around you. So what if you arrive five minutes late? Better than having an avoidable accident because you were in too much of a rush and couldn’t stop when you needed to.
Visibility, braking and steering are all reduced in the wet
Not only is your visibility reduced in wet weather, braking distances are usually much longer and your tyres won’t have as much grip to steer. So not only will you spot the danger much later, you won’t be able to stop anywhere near as quickly or swerve out of the way as effectively to avoid it.
Those three factors all mean that your chances of having an accident at any given speed are much higher in wet weather than in the dry.
Another source of continual amazement is the number of people who seem content to drive with dirty windscreens (or frozen ones in winter). If your windscreen is misted up or obscured by dust, take a few minutes to properly clean it so that you can see clearly through the entire window. Cleaning a small patch directly in front of the steering wheel is not sufficient to provide a safe level of visibility.
This article was originally published in April 2016 and most recently updated in November 2021.