When most people think of a dangerous time of the year to be on the road, they think of winter. The truth is that every season presents its own dangers and challenges for the road. If you are going to be driving a lot during this fall season, here are some of the biggest fall road hazards that you should watch out for:
1. Traffic – You might not think of traffic as a hazard, but especially if you are driving distractedly, traffic can be very dangerous. There is usually an increase in traffic during the fall, first, because people have returned to school, which means more drivers on the road in the morning and afternoon as parents take their kids to school or teenagers and young adults drive to school. There is also going to be higher than average pedestrian traffic, especially if you have to drive through school zones during your commute. Many pedestrians, young children especially, will step out into traffic without looking both ways to make sure the road is clear, which puts the onus back on you to watch for them and avoid them.
2. Leaves – Can leaves on the road actually be dangerous? If you live in the northeast, where there are always plentiful fall colors, leaves falling from trees can present a serious challenge to drivers. The make roads slippery and a pile or mass of leaves can hold on to moisture for days or even weeks after the most recent rain. This means that even if it has not rained recently, the leaves might still be slippery. If you are going to fast or taking a turn too sharply, a pile of wet leaves could be just as slippery as ice on the road. In addition, leaves can hide other hazards on the road, like pools of water or potholes. Instead of zipping through every pile of leaves, make sure to slow down and approach them in the same way that you would approach ice.
3. Fog – While there might have been fog during the summer, fog is far more common during the colder mornings and days of fall. Fog will gather in the low places around large bodies of water or in between mountains and can reduce visibility to just a few feet, depending on how thick the fog is. Especially if you only encounter thick fog a few times a year, it can be difficult to understand how to drive in it. The two biggest things to remember are to slow down, so that you are able to see and react to anything in front of you with this reduced visibility and to not turn on your high beams. Your car might have a fog lights setting—choose this setting if you do have it. It is important for you to have your lights on so you can see and other vehicles can see you, but your high beams will just reflect off the fog and produce glare.
4. Frost – It might not completely freeze at night yet, but it might still be getting cold enough for the ground to collect frost. You’ll most commonly find slippery frost on your lawn, but with enough buildup of frost on the road, it can be just as slippery as if it was completely iced over. In some areas, you might actually start to see your roads iced in the early morning, even if it is completely melted and dry once the sun is up. Be particularly wary of bridges and overpasses, as these areas are the first to freeze and become icy during colder weather.
5. The sun – The sun can be a problem when you are trying to drive during all times of year, but you are more likely to be on the road while it is going down more often during the fall, because it starts to set around six or seven and will only set earlier and earlier the later in the season it becomes. This sort of sun glare can make it very difficult to see what is going on while driving. If you feel that you are being blinded by the sun, it might be time to invest in some sunglasses or to use your sun shades more strategically. While you likely will not be able to completely block out the sun, you should be able to shield yourself from it enough that you can get home safely.
6. Low tire pressure – As the temperatures start to drop, the air in your tires will contract, which lessens their tire pressure. Why be worried about this? Because underinflated tires can become a potential hazard. If you have a new vehicle, it will probably tell you when your tires are underinflated, making it easy to know when you need to go to a gas station or service shop and have them filled. Older vehicles, however, will not have these warnings. It is a good idea to check your tire pressure and make sure all of your tires are at the PSI prescribed in your owner’s manual.
7. Animals – If you live in an area where wildlife is common, you have probably already started to see deer, elk, and moose on the sides of the road. As the temperatures drop in the mountains, they might be coming down in search of food. These creatures, while fun to see during your commute, can be as much a road hazard as ice. When you see an animal on the side of the road, slow down—not just to get a better look, but to make sure you have time to react if they dash out into the road.