The switch back to standard time means extra driving caution is needed
By Peter D. duPre
The turning leaves and cooler weather that indicate fall has arrived are also a signal to use extra caution when behind the wheel. As we head into winter, the number of daylight hours shrinks a little each day through the end of October. Then the switch from daylight savings to standard time robs us of an hour of daylight – and suddenly, most of us find ourselves commuting to and from work in darkness.
We all know that nighttime visibility is not as good as daytime visibility and when you add in the rain, sleet, fog and even snow storms that occur in the fall, visibility can drop to virtually nothing. Driving under these conditions means that extra caution is needed. To keep from becoming a statistic, you need to stay sharp and be careful. Here are a few tips that should help get you safely to your destination:
- School's in session – In many areas, school starts early and children are walking to their bus stops and schools in total darkness just about the same time most of us leave for work. Sleepy school children forget to look for traffic and have a bad habit of bolting out between parked cars to catch the school bus. Keep your eyes peeled and slow down. Also, remember that when driving in a school zone, the speed limit in most areas is 20 mph and strictly enforced. Avoid both the accident and the ticket -- drive slowly.
- Allow more travel time – Slowing down in schools zones and driving cautiously in the dark means that it takes longer to get where we are going, especially during inclement weather. Take the stress off getting to work on time by leaving a few minutes earlier in the morning.
- Inclement weather – Unlike summer, when weather conditions are relatively stable, fall weather conditions can change abruptly. Thunderstorms, sleet, hail and even snow are not unusual. Roads covered with a summer's worth of grease become really slick when soaked with rain. Additionally, fall frosts and such slippery hazards as wet leaves on the roadway can contribute to traction nightmares. Make sure your tires are in good shape, go easy on the gas when starting out, and realize that your stopping distances will be increased.
- Check the lights -- See and be seen. Drive with your headlamps on, even if it’s not dark. Do a walk around your vehicle to see that emergency flashers, turn signals and headlights are all working properly. Have your mechanic aim and adjust the headlights. New cars are equipped with bright burning halogen headlights that increase visibility. On older vehicles, consider converting to halogen lamps. The extra cost is more than offset by improved visibility and increased safety.
- Change the wiper blades -- According to safety experts, wiper blades should be changed every 5,000 to 6,000 miles, or twice a year. Most of us don't change the blades even once a year. Check front and rear wipers. Examine the rubber; it should be flexible, without cracks or missing chunks and should clear the glass without leaving any streaks. If the blades aren't performing perfectly, replace them.
- Check the brakes and tires -- If the tires and brakes aren't in good condition, you won't be able to stop on slick roadways. Tires should have plenty of tread on them; if the wear bars are showing, its time for new rubber. Most tire and brake shops will inspect your tires and brakes for free so there is no excuse for not getting them looked at.
- Heater and defroster check – Fogged-up windows limit visibility and are a safety hazard. Make sure both front and rear defrosters are working properly. Front blower hoses sometimes get knocked off the defroster vents and electric wire in the rear defogger can break. Most auto parts stores sell special kits to repair these breaks. While you are at it, have the heating system inspected. A cold car is an uncomfortable distraction to safe driving.
- Look under the hood – Don’t get stranded in the dark. Have your mechanic check the condition of the coolant, belts and hoses. Get the chassis lubed, air filter replaced, oil and filter changed and battery inspected. A little work now can save a big towing bill later.
- Wash and wax -- A vehicle's first line of defense against the elements is a good wash and wax job. It helps protect the metal surfaces from pitting and corrosion and keeps your car looking its best. Get rid of that summer grime and apply a thick coat of protective wax.
- Relax – It may seem like there is a lot to do to get your vehicle ready for fall/winter driving. Don’t stress over it; rather, pick one or two things to do each week so that by the end of November, your vehicle is ready for winter driving. Seeing and being seen in the darkness is vital: check the lights first, then do the tires, brakes, and wiper blades. Start your day 10 minutes earlier, have that second cup of coffee and leave the house 5 minutes earlier so you start the commute as relaxed as possible -- good advice at any time of year.