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California Driver Handbook - Special Driving Situations

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California Driver Handbook - Special Driving Situations

Driving Hazards

Water on the Road

Slow down when there is a lot of water on the road. In a heavy rain at speeds of 50 mph or more, your tires can lose all contact with the road and then your vehicle will be riding on water or “hydroplaning.” A slight change of direction or a gust of wind could throw your vehicle into a skid. If your vehicle starts to hydroplane, slow down gradually—do not apply the brakes.

Slippery Roads

Slow down at the first sign of rain, especially after a dry spell. This is when many roads are the most slippery, because oil and dust have not washed away. A slippery road will not give your tires the grip they need. Drive more slowly than you would on a dry road. Adjust your speed as follows:

  • Wet road–go 5 to 10 mph slower.
  • Packed snow–reduce your speed by half.
  • Ice–slow to a crawl.

Some road surfaces are more slippery than others when wet and usually have warning signs posted. Here are some clues to help you spot slippery roads:

  • On cold, wet days, shade from trees or buildings can hide spots of ice. These areas freeze first and dry out last.
  • Bridges and overpasses tend to freeze before the rest of the road does. They can hide spots of ice.
  • If it starts to rain on a hot day, the pavement can be very slippery for the first several minutes. Heat causes oil in the asphalt to come to the surface. The oil makes the road slippery until the rain washes the oil off the surface of the road.

High Winds

High winds can be a hazard while driving, especially to larger vehicles, trucks, campers, and vehicles with trailers. Some precautions for driving in high winds include:

  • Reduce your speed. Slowing down gives you better control over the vehicle and will give you more time to react in the event your vehicle gets hit by a strong gust of wind.
  • Maintain a firm hand position on the steering wheel. Strong wind gusts are unpredictable, and if you are not holding the wheel properly, gusts can be strong enough to cause the steering wheel to be jerked out of your hands.
  • Be alert. Look well ahead and watch for any debris on the road. High winds can cause debris to litter the highway or can even throw debris directly into your path. By looking ahead you give yourself more time to react to road hazards.
  • Do not use cruise control. You can maintain maximum control of the gas pedal when unpredictable gusts of wind occur.
  • Be proactive. Wait for the storm to blow over. It may be safer to pull over and take a break.

Driving in the Fog

The best advice for driving in the fog is DON’T. You should consider postponing your trip until the fog clears. However, if you must drive, then drive slow, turn on your windshield wipers, and use your low-beam headlights. The light from the high-beam headlights will reflect back and cause glare.

Never drive with just your parking or fog lights.

Increase your following distance and be prepared to stop within the space you can see ahead. Avoid crossing or passing lanes of traffic unless absolutely necessary. Listen for traffic you cannot see. Use your wipers and defroster as necessary for best vision.
If the fog becomes so thick that you can barely see, consider pulling off the roadway, activating your emergency signal lights, and waiting until the weather improves before continuing

Driving with Sun Glare

Glare from the sun can be very dangerous while driving. The following tips may help you manage sun glare:

  • Keep the inside and outside of your windshield clean.
  • Make sure your windshield wipers are in good working order and your wiper fluid level is full.
  • Wear polarized sunglasses.
  • Maintain enough space between your vehicle and the vehicles around you.
  • Your car visor should also be free of anything that would restrict use and be in good working order.
  • Be extra cautious of pedestrians. You may have difficulty seeing them.
  • Try to avoid driving around sunrise and sunset.


Driving in Darkness

Drive more slowly at night because you cannot see as far ahead and you will have less time to stop for a hazard. Make sure you can stop within the distance lighted by your ­headlights.

Use your low-beam headlights at night when it rains. Do not drive using only your parking lights.

Use your high-beam headlights whenever possible in open country or dark city streets, as long as it is not illegal. Do not blind other drivers with your high-beam headlights. Dim your lights when necessary. If another driver does not dim his or her lights:

  • Do not look directly into the oncoming headlights.
  • Look toward the right edge of your lane.
  • Watch the oncoming vehicle out of the corner of your eye.
  • Do not try to “get back” at the other driver by keeping your bright lights on. If you do, both of you may be blinded.

When you drive at night, remember:

  • Pedestrians and bicyclists are much harder to see at night; stay alert for them.
  • Motorcycles are also harder to see at night because most have only one taillight.
  • Highway construction can take place at night. Reduce your speed in highway construction zones.
  • When you leave a brightly-lit place, drive slowly until your eyes adjust to the darkness.
  • Drive as far to the right as possible, when a vehicle with one light drives toward you. It could be a bicyclist or motorcyclist, but it could also be a vehicle with a missing headlight.

Driving in Rain or Snow

Many road pavements are the most slippery when it first starts to rain or snow because oil and dust have not yet washed away. Slow down at the first sign of rain, drizzle, or snow on the road. Turn on your windshield wipers, low-beam headlights, and defroster.

In a heavy rainstorm or snowstorm, you may not be able to see more than 100 feet ahead of your vehicle. When you cannot see any farther than 100 feet, you cannot safely drive faster than 30 mph. You may have to stop from time to time to wipe mud or snow off your windshield, headlights, and taillights.

If you drive in snowy areas, carry the correct number of chains and be sure they will fit your drive wheels. Learn how to put the chains on before you need to use them

Flooded Roadways

Excessive water on a roadway may cause flooding. This can happen gradually or suddenly. Flooding is dangerous and can be life threatening. It is important to understand the risks of water on the roadway. Some of the dangers of a flooded roadway include:

  • The vehicle being swept off the road.
  • Floating debris and unseen hazards.
  • The roadway collapsing.
  • Vehicle malfunction (e.g. stalled engine or break failure).
  • Electrocution if accompanied by fallen power lines.

It is best to find an alternate route if you encounter a flooded roadway. It may not be possible to determine the depth of the flood by looking; it may be deep and too dangerous to cross. If you have no other option but to drive through a flooded roadway, be sure to drive slowly. Once you have safely navigated through the water, slowly and carefully check your brakes to ensure that they function correctly.

Driving in Hill Country or Curves

You never know what is on the other side of a steep hill or a sharp curve. When you come to a hill or curve, slow down so you can stop for any hazard. You must drive slowly enough to stop.

Any time your view is blocked by a hill or a curve, you should assume there is another vehicle ahead of you. Only pass the vehicle if a hill or curve is at least ⅓ of a mile away, because you need at least that much room to pass safely.

Do not drive on the left side of the road when coming to a curve or the top of a hill, because you cannot see far enough ahead to know if it is safe to pass.

Traffic Breaks

Traffic breaks are used by law enforcement to:

  • Slow or stop traffic to remove hazards from the roadway.
  • Conduct emergency operations.
  • Prevent traffic collisions in heavy fog or unusually heavy traffic.

During a traffic break, the officer turns on the rear emergency lights, slows the vehicle, and drives across the lanes of traffic in a serpentine manner. To assist the officer in conducting a traffic break:

  • Activate your emergency flashers to warn other drivers there is a hazard ahead.
  • Slowly begin to decrease your speed. Do not slow abruptly unless it is necessary to avoid a collision. Slow to the same speed as the officer while keeping a safe distance from the patrol vehicle ahead of you.
  • Do not attempt to drive past the patrol vehicle. Do not accelerate until the patrol vehicle has turned off its emergency lights and traffic conditions ahead allow the return to normal speeds.

Clean Windows And Mirrors

Keep your windshield and side windows clean inside and outside. Bright sun or headlights on a dirty window make it hard to see out. Clear off ice, frost, or dew from all windows before you drive.

Make sure you can see and be seen. If you drive in rain or snow, you may have to stop sometimes to wipe mud or snow off your windshield, headlights, and taillights.

Adjust Seat And Mirrors

Adjust your seat before you put on your seat belt. You should sit high enough to see the road. If you still cannot see, use a seat cushion.

Adjust your rear and side mirrors before you start driving. If your vehicle has a day/night mirror, learn how to use it. The night setting reduces the headlight glare from the cars behind you and helps you see well.

Tire Safety

Tires are an important part of driving safety. Be sure that your tires have adequate tread and air pressure prior to driving your car. Some vehicles will alert you when your tire pressure or tread is low. Even with such assistance, it is important to know how to check the tire pressure and tread on your vehicle manually. Here are a few simple tips to help you maintain your tires:

  • You can use a penny to check the tread on your tire.
    • Hold the penny so you can see Abraham Lincoln’s head. You should hold the coin between your fingers so his head is facing you and is completely visible.
    • Place the coin, with the head pointing down, into the deepest groove of your tire tread.
    • If his head is completely visible, your tires need to be replaced.
  • Use a tire pressure gauge.
    • Inside your vehicle manual, or within the inside edge of the car door, you should see a pounds per square inch (PSI) indicator. PSI is the measurement of air pressure in your tires.
    • When your tires are cold, use the gauge to find the PSI reading for your tires.
    • Adjust your tire pressure accordingly to match the manufacturer recommended PSI for your vehicle.

Other Dangers

All gas-powered vehicles produce carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is a deadly, odorless, gas which is released out of the exhaust pipe of the vehicle. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may include: weariness, yawning, dizziness, nausea, headache, and/or ringing in the ears. You can prevent carbon monoxide poisoning by having the exhaust system checked regularly. Also, leave the window partially open when starting the engine, while driving the vehicle or when running the engine while parked. Never run the engine with your garage door closed.

What a Driver Should Do During an Enforcement Stop

Acknowledge the officer’s presence by turning on your right turn signal. Activating your signal lets the officer know that you recognize his or her presence. An officer may become alarmed if you fail to recognize him or her, and might perceive that you have a reason to avoid yielding or that you might be impaired.

Move your vehicle to the right shoulder of the road. The officer will guide you using his or her patrol vehicle. Do not move onto the center median. Do not stop in the center median of a freeway or on the opposite side of a two-lane roadway. This places both the driver and the officer in danger of being hit by oncoming traffic.

On a freeway, move completely onto the right shoulder, even if you’re in the carpool/HOV lane. Stop in a well lit area when possible. Pull your vehicle as far off the roadway as possible. When it is dark look for locations that have more light, such as areas with street or freeway lights, near restaurants, or service stations.

End your cell phone conversation and turn off your radio. The officer needs your full attention to communicate with you to complete the enforcement stop in the least amount of time needed.

Remain inside your vehicle unless otherwise directed by the officer. Never step out of your vehicle, unless an officer directs you to do so. During an enforcement stop, the officer’s priorities are your safety, the safety of your passengers, and the officer’s own personal safety. In most situations, the safest place for you and your passengers is inside your vehicle. Exiting your vehicle without first being directed by an officer can increase the risk of being struck by a passing vehicle and/or increase the officer’s level of feeling threatened.

Place your hands in clear view, including all passengers’ hands such as on the steering wheel, on top of your lap, etc. During an enforcement stop, an officer’s inability to see the hands of the driver and all occupants in the vehicle increases the officer’s level of feeling threatened. Most violent criminal acts against a law enforcement officer occur through the use of a person’s hands, such as the use of a firearm, sharp object, etc. If your windows are tinted, it is recommended that you roll down your windows after you have stopped your vehicle on the right shoulder of the roadway and before the officer makes contact with you.

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