The death of a truck driver Wednesday in a foggy-weather crash south of Fresno serves as a sober reminder that driving in the Valley’s notorious tule fog ranks as the region’s most terrifying midwinter challenge.
The dense fog that socked much of the central San Joaquin Valley is expected to stay away the next two days as a weak low-pressure system travels through Central California, but fog is forecast to occur again beginning Friday night and occurring in mornings and evenings into next week, the National Weather Service said.
The California Highway Patrol advises anyone who feels unsafe driving in the fog “to consider postponing your trip until the fog clears,” said David Singer, community outreach and media relations officer for the CHP’s Central Division in Fresno.
If driving is unavoidable, allow extra time to get to the destination and slow down, Singer said. Drive slow enough that you can stop in case you see something ahead blocking your way. Wednesday’s chain-reaction crash on Highway 41 north of Central Avenue started when a tractor-trailer rig plowed into the back of another that was parked on the side of the road about 3 a.m. Two more trucks were involved, blocking the northbound lanes, before light traffic on the highway could be stopped.
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“You should never be driving so fast you can’t see it, identify it and come to a stop,” Singer said.
If only two or three lane stripes are visible on the roadway, the likelihood is “you’ll be crawling along,” he said. “Go to the slow lane where you should be.”
It’s common for drivers to follow the lights of the vehicle ahead of them in fog, especially at night, Singer said.
The CHP does not have special rules for lead cars and followers, but driving at a speed safe for conditions applies to both the lead car and those behind, he said.
“You just have to go at the speed you are comfortable with, and that you can stop if you see a problem,” he said.
In fog, the CHP will conduct pace care operations when visiblity is less than 500 feet, officer Axel Reyes said.
Watch distance and speed
Keeping a safe distance from the car ahead is mandatory, Singer said: “We recommend one car length per 10 miles per hour of speed.”
The “three-second rule,” in which it would take three seconds to reach the car ahead if it should make a sudden stop, is a good one to follow, he said.
If the fog is too thick for safe driving, take an exit, find a safe location and wait it out, Singer said. It’s illegal to stop on a freeway except in an emergency.
It’s legal to pull to the side of a road that’s not a freeway, he said. “Move as far off the road as possible.”
Singer said turning off headlights and tail lights is a good idea when visibility is poor and the driver is parked at the side of the road.
“You don’t want someone to follow your tail lights” and hit your car, he said.
Turn on flashing hazard lights “if you think your location is a hazard to other drivers,” he said.
One driver died and another was seriously injured in the 3 a.m. crash involving two Foster Farms poultry-transport trucks, a fuel truck and a pickup truck on Highway 41 north of Central Avenue, the CHP said.
The northbound lanes were closed as emergency workers picked up debris and chickens from the first Foster Farms truck. Lanes reopened about 8:40 a.m.
Visibility was 500 to 700 feet, the CHP said. That’s normally enough to avoid collisions, but investigators are still piecing together what happened, officer Reyes said.
The chain-reaction crash began when a Foster Farms big-rig driver stopped on the side of the highway and got out of the cab for an undisclosed reason.
Moments later, an empty fuel tanker slammed into the first truck, pinning the Foster Farms driver, identified by the Fresno County coroner’s office as 37-year-old Antonio Cervantes of Livingston, under the wreckage for about 40 minutes. He sustained major injuries and was later pronounced dead at Community Regional Medical Center.
The pickupcrashed into the wreckage, then a second Foster Farms truck crashed into the three vehicles, but that driver was not injured.
The driver of the unloaded fuel truck, 33-year-old Brandon Russell of Visalia, sustained major non-life-threatening injuries and was taken to Community Regional. The pickup driver, Mario Moreno, 47, of Riverdale, sustained minor injuries.