Hate it or love it…
You’re going to have to drive through non-ideal conditions. As a former truck driver, driving in West Virginia was one of the most challenging states, particularly during the winter months.
With season changes every few months, elevation changes, a variety of roadways, and constantly changing traffic conditions, there are so many different kinds of road conditions that pose hazards.
We’re going to go over several safety tips for the different West Virginia road conditions. We’ll include:
So without further ado, let’s check it out!
How to Drive Safely in Different Light Conditions
What do I mean by “light conditions”?
Light conditions affect how you see your surroundings. Driving in West Virginia poses many unique hazards. One one hand, driving straight into the sun could blind you. And as we all know, in West Virginia you have lots of trees which can create a “strobe light effect” as the trees pass by. Kind of like what you see in the video below, but often much worse!
Here are some tips for driving in broad daylight:
- Use a sun visor and/or wear sunglasses.
- Reduce your speed to give you more time and space to react to vehicles on the road. It’s ok to drive under the speed limit during hazardous driving conditions. Being blinded by the sun is absolutely hazardous, even on a nice clear day.
- Adjust your mirrors so you can see your surroundings better. If the sun is reflecting off your rearview mirror, consider using the dimming feature or adjusting the mirror temporarily so the sun is not reflecting into your eyes.
- But perhaps the most important tip, which most people don’t follow, is to STOP DRIVING! If possible, find a safe place to pull off the roadway such as a parking lot or well off the shoulder of the roadways. Generally, the sun will be most blinding during sunrise and sunset. After 10 or 15 minutes, conditions should improve. As with all other dangerous driving conditions, if you can’t see, you should not drive! Even as a professional driver, I would often pull over during times the sun was on the horizon. Saving 10 or 15 minutes by driving blind simply isn’t worth it.
On the other hand, night driving poses its own risks. West Virginia has many unique hazards when driving at night. Since so much of the state is rural, most areas do not have adequate street lighting. In addition, the trees and mountains can often even block moonlight or other lights off the roadway.
Here are some tips for driving at night in West Virginia:
- While it seems obvious, make sure your headlights are actually on. Most modern vehicles use daytime running lights, which can make it seem like your headlights are on, but they are not nearly as effective as your actual headlights. Plus, if your headlights aren’t on, neither are your tail lights. Even in vehicles with automatic headlights, sometimes the switch gets bumped from “auto” to “off.” So always double check and make sure your headlights are actually activated propertly.
- Use high beams whenever possible. According to West Virginia motor vehicle law, you are allowed to use your high beam headlights until they are 500ft in front of you. Just remember to use common sense. Blinding oncoming drivers is very hazardous. If you are behind another vehicle, you may use your high beams as close as 200ft behind them. But again, use your discretion and be courteous as to not blind the vehicle in front of you.
- Do not look directly at oncoming headlights – they might momentarily blind you and it will take your eyes a while to readjust to the dark conditions once they pass. Instead, focus your eyes on the right, away from the bright lights. I usually look towards the right line if there is one. Just remember to aim high in steering and don’t look directly in front of your vehicle. Try to continue looking down the road as far as you can.
- Avoid having bright screens on your dashboard or your center counsel. This includes USB chargers that sometimes have bright lights on them. You can use a piece of electrical tape to cover those annoying lights.
- Make sure your windshield and your mirrors are clear. This seems obvious, but so many drivers fail to keep both the inside and outside of the windows and mirrors clean. Even minor debris or a slight film on your windshield can cause a glare and drastically reduce your ability to see properly. Check out the video below on how to have a streak free and crystal clear windshield.
How to Drive Safely in Rain
West Virginia is no stranger to rain. Some of the most intense rain storms I’ve ever been in have been while driving in West Virginia. While West Virginia is not in tornado alley, the state is no stranger to heavy storms and more frequently, very heavy rain. The hills and valleys can also cause flash flooding or unexpected puddles in the roadways.
You ever hear the term “a little rain has never hurt anyone?” Well that’s just not true, especially when it comes to driving. Rain causes a very large number of accidents. The worst accidents I ever saw as a truck driver were not in snowy conditions or during severe weather. It was during light rainy weather.
Here are some tips for driving in the rain:
- Be sure your tires are in good condition. As a truck driver, I used to do a walk around the truck before every trip. You should be doing the same, but this is especially true when it is raining. Tires are extremely important in rainy conditions. Make sure you regularly check them for property inflation and tread wear. Tires with low tread or improper inflation are EXTREMELY dangerous on wet roadways. Do not underestimate this.
- Look out for standing water. These areas may obscure potholes or other debris. Plus, they increase the chance of hydroplaning. Large puddles can be fun to drive through, but they can also easily cause you to go out of control. Try to drive around them if you can safely do so, or slow down BEFORE going through the puddle (not as you’re going through them).
- Stay away from large vehicles. The spray off of their tires can cause visibility issues, and they also have a much more difficult time seeing you. As a truck driver, I could often hardly see a vehicle directly next to me due to the spray limiting my visibility.
- Turn on your headlights. Even in the daytime, your headlights will help make you more visible. Some vehicles with daytime running lights will not activate the headlights during rain in daylight conditions. Manually turn on your headlights as they are much more effective. It always amazes me how many people fail to turn their headlights on during rainy conditions.
- Do not use cruise control. Make sure that you are in control of your car. Cruise control can’t react to hydroplaning or slippery conditions as you can.
- Slow down! The speed limit is just that. The LIMIT. Driving “too fast for conditions” is also a traffic violation. During rainy conditions, you need to slow down. Others might get frustrated or impatient. Too bad for them. You’re the safe driver and they aren’t.
- Watch for leaves on the roadway, especially in the fall. West Virginia is no stranger to trees. There are billions of leaves on the roadways at any given time. Leaves can form a sort of “slime” on them when they get wet, and if they are on the roadway they can be almost as slick as ice. Take extra precaution on curves and hills.
- If you do skid, never panic. Instead, slowly release your foot from the gas pedal and steer your wheel in the direction you want the front tires to go. Do NOT slam on the brakes. This will cause the skid to get even worse. Check out the video below on how to properly recover from a skid. This video was put out by the state of Washington but the same principles apply for West Virginia.
How to Drive Safely Through Flooding
If you need to be focused and cautious in the rain…
Floods require you to be even more careful. Floods kill more people every year than any other weather hazard.
Unlike driving in the rain, flooding can prevent you from driving altogether.
So, what do you do when this happens?
- If you see a flood, make a detour. DO NOT DRIVE THROUGH FLOODWATERS!! Do not brave it even if you think the water is shallow or you see other people doing it. It takes a very small amount of moving water to push your vehicle off the roadway, and even standing water can cause significant damage to your vehicle.
- Of course, you can’t detour around every area of standing water. If the flood is 6 inches deep, do not attempt to drive through. It’s best to wait it out or turn around if there are no detours. Remember, smaller vehicles can already float at this height.
- If you feel the flood is okay to pass, make sure to drive very slowly. Also, drive in the middle of the road. The edges of the road are often deeper or sloped.
- If the water is moving any faster than a very slow speed, do not attempt to drive through.
- If your vehicle stalls in the middle of a flood, do not restart the engine. Once water gets into the engine of your vehicle, attempting to restart will just cause further damage. Instead, leave your vehicle if possible and call 911.
How to Drive Safely in Snow and Sleet
One of the most dangerous conditions you’ll encounter driving in West Virginia is snow. This is especially true in the more mountainous areas of West Virginia, and let’s be honest – that’s most of the state! Conditions can quickly go from rain to snow during elevation changes. Pop up snowstorms can also occur.
Here are some tips for driving in the snow in West Virginia:
- Before going out in winter, always check the weather, even on sunny days. We almost all have readily available internet access now. It only takes a minute to look at the forecast and weather radar. If there is a snowstorm forecast, it’s best to postpone your trip if possible.
- Pack a first aid kit, water, extra clothes, jacket, blanket, hat & gloves, shovel, and flashlights. You never know what might happen. I also like to carry kitty litter in the trunk of my car which you can use to help get you unstuck should that happen.
- Remove all the snow on your mirrors, windshield, and windows. This sounds obvious, but it’s amazing how lazy people can be. You should brush the snow off of your hood, roof, and trunk.
- Change your tires to winter tires and/or keep snow chains in your vehicle (and know how to use them!). While all season tires are ok, snow tires make a MASSIVE difference in handling. In a place like West Virginia that gets so much snow, it is an investment into your safely that I very highly recommend.
- Be on the lookout for black ice – transparent ice that is a lot more slippery than snow. Black ice typically forms over bridges or low lying areas. Black ice is extremely slick and often invisible to the naked eye. It just looks like the road is wet. If it is raining at or near 32 degrees, the risk of black ice forming is much greater.
- If you need to slow down, gradually step on the brakes. Never slam on your brakes. The same goes with steering and cornering. Do everything in “slow motion” with smooth actions. Jerky movements are dangerous in snowy conditions.
- Stay away from large vehicles. Snow and ice can build up on the top of these vehicles and large chunks can fly off causing damage to your vehicle. Give them a lot of space.
- Remember an All Wheel Drive (AWD) or 4×4 vehicle may help you gain traction from a stop, they can still succumb to losing control at speed and often these heavier vehicles take longer to stop than smaller 2wd vehicles. AWD vehicles tend to give people a false sense of security. Often when I’m driving in the snow, the vehicles I see most in the ditch are AWD vehicles, pickup trucks, and SUV’s.
- If your car gets stuck in the snow, you can clear a path around the tires, do the forward-backward technique, etc… If your tires are spinning, hit the brake and gas pedals at the same time (slowly). Here is a video on how to get unstuck.
How to Drive Safely in High Winds
“It’s just a little wind!”
No, it’s not. High winds can pose many significant threats while driving, and West Virginia is no stranger to high wind conditions.
Follow these tips to help you control your vehicle during these situations:
- Drive with both hands on the wheel and do not overreact to sudden wind gusts that push your vehicle to one side suddenly. Often it’s not the wind that causes an accident, but the overreaction as the driver attempts to keep the vehicle straight.
- Remove loose objects outside your vehicle. I often see people in the winter time have Christmas decorations on their car, for example. These can easily fly off and cause an accident.
- Be careful when passing through tunnels and bridges. This is often where accidents occur. The bridge or tunnel will temporarily shield the wind, then as you come out the other side you get hit with a sudden gust. With tunnels, the wind may be coming from a different direction than when you entered.
- Be aware of changing wind conditions through valley, curves, or changing terrain.
- Stay away from large vehicles. High profile vehicles are much more likely to get blown around in the wind, or even blown completely over. You do not want to be next to a high profile vehicle such as a bus, RV, or anyone towing a trailer when conditions are windy. Just check out how this semi truck got blown over!
How to Drive Safely in Fog and Smoke
Fog and smoke are EXTREMELY dangerous. We’ve all seen pictures of videos of massive car pile-ups that happen in foggy conditions. Don’t become a statistic.
The goal here is to make yourself seen and to see where you’re headed.
Here’s how to do it:
- Turn on your low-beam headlights. High-beam headlights might cause momentary blindness to other drivers or yourself as the light reflects off of the water droplets.
- Increase your following distance. Sudden stops in traffic are common during foggy and smokey conditions. Be prepared for a brake check at any time.
- If it is too foggy or smokey to see, it is impossible to drive! Pull as far off the roadway as you can, keep your lights on, and activate your hazards. Do not keep driving if you are unable to see!! The smoke or fog will eventually pass.
- Listen to your surroundings. This will help you know if there are people or vehicles around you. Listening to the radio is not the best idea during low visibility conditions.
How to Drive Safely in Road Construction
Road construction often means more traffic. And as we all know, West Virginia is no stranger to road construction all times of the year, but especially during summer months.
Moreover, it means that there is equipment, workers, damaged roads, poor lane lines, traffic cones or barriers, and more.
Here are some reminders when passing through road construction:
- Be aware of the warning signs before and inside a construction zone.
- Unless otherwise posted, if the lanes reduce, use all available lanes all the way to the merge point. Some people get upset with this, but using all available lanes helps to decrease congestion. If there is no traffic backed up, moving over as early as possible is best.
- Take turns when merging. Do not speed up or drive close to the car in front just so you can pass first. This is called a “zipper merge.” Here is how it works in the video below:
- Use extra caution where workers or equipment are present. Hundreds of road construction workers are killed each year by inattentive drivers. Look for flaggers that tell you where you have to go or when to stop. Watch for flashing lights as that usually indicates the most hazardous areas or where workers are present.
- Don’t drive too close to barriers. Givie as much space from the active work zone as possible.
Those are some tips for driving in hazardous West Virginia road conditions. West Virginia is a beautiful sate and can be a great state to drive in. But it does come with unique challenges.