Weather is a major factor in vehicle crashes. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), nearly 25% of all crashes are weather-related. We're all aware of the dangers resulting from factors such as rain, snow, ice and fog. But one that is often overlooked is wind. The wind can be steady or gusty, it can come at your vehicle from any direction – headwind, tailwind or croswind – and it can change instantly. And it can be fierce!
High winds can lead to potentially dangerous situations regardless of a driver's experience or skill level. Not only can they affect the vehicle itself, they can cause changes in road conditions and visibility can be reduced by blowing dust, debris or snow.
Here are some tips on how to deal with windy conditions when driving:
- STEER WHERE YOU WANT TO GO – The key factor in responding to wind forces acting on your vehicle is to steer where you want to go. Smoothly, but firmly, adjust the pressure on the wheel and the steering angle to maintain that direction and continue to do so as conditions change. In gusty conditions, it's important to respond quickly but do so in small increments and don't jerk the wheel. Be careful not to turn the wheel too much or you'll go too far the other way.
- ANTICIPATE – Gusts are most likely to occur when you encounter new conditions, such as entering a highway, passing from an area with trees or buildings lining the road to a clear area, crossing a bridge or driving in close proximity to a large truck or trailer. Be prepared to take corrective action immediately, smoothly and in small increments.
- KEEP TWO HANDS ON THE WHEEL – Maintaining control of your vehicle is much easier with proper hand position. Keep both hands on the wheel at all times, but especially when encountering transient conditions. Place both hands at the same height on each side of the wheel, in the 8-10 and 2-4 positions as the spokes allow. This will give you maximum sensitivity to what it going on with the vehicle and the first hint that wind is an issue.
- STAY LOOSE – Keep steady but light pressure on the wheel. It is very easy to tense up and grip more tightly in nasty conditions. If you find yourself doing so, stretch your hands, one at a time, while keeping a light touch on the wheel.
- LOOK UP – Keep your vision up. Watch for small stuff, like twigs, bunches, leaves, dust or debris blowing around. Look at flags, trees, steam, smoke and exhaust fumes. If there is enough movement to catch your attention, there is enough wind to affect your car.
- CONCENTRATE – If there appears to be more than a gentle breeze, take your awareness to the highest level. When there are strong winds or gusts present, maintaining control of your vehicle requires constant vigilance
- ADJUST SPEED – As in any driving situation, risk is directly related to speed. Maintaining control and position is much more difficult at higher speeds. Slowing down gives you more time to react.
- MINIMIZE DISTRACTIONS – Phones or audio systems pull your attention away from the job at hand, greatly increasing the risk of delayed reaction and inability to avoid an “incident”. This becomes even more critical in high wind situations where you can instantly be blown into an adjacent or opposing lane by the force of the wind, with no warning.
- BE CAUTIOUS AROUND OTHER VEHICLES – “Artificial” wind gusts can be created by large vehicles, such as transport trucks and buses, when meeting, passing, or driving in close proximity to them. They are pushing aside a large quantity of air that flows around them and they create a low pressure behind them that tends to pull other vehicles into it. Be aware also that even a passenger car can have the same affect on cyclists and motorcyclists give them more room as you meet or pass.
- PULL OVER – If the wind is strong enough to cause you concern about continuing safely, pull over and wait it out.