Key tips to driving safely when the wintertime Valley fog forms

Some big rigs and other vehicles tangled in the fog near Hanford in 2017.
Some big rigs and other vehicles tangled in the fog near Hanford in 2017. CHP

It may not feel like it, but winter is quickly approaching and the California Highway Patrol would like to make sure the motoring public is prepared for its arrival. As residents of the San Joaquin Valley, we must brace for the return of the rain, snow and the infamous Valley fog.

CHP officer Robert Montano writes the On Duty column for The Bee. Fresno

Statistically, fog is the most dangerous driving hazard as it plays a large factor in traffic collisions each year. My time spent working in the Los Banos and Hanford areas afforded me the opportunity to see how quickly things can turn dangerous. In 2017, a 60-car pile-up occurred in Kings County as a result of motorists traveling too fast during foggy conditions. Whether you are heading to work or taking your children to school during the fog season, please keep the following in mind:

▪ Reduce your speed. Many collisions are a direct result of driving too fast. The moisture from the fog creates wetness on the roadway. It’s a matter of physics – your vehicle cannot stop as fast or turn as accurately on a wet road.

▪ Travel with your vehicle headlights on low beam. Low beams direct the light down onto the roadway and allow other drivers to see you. Never use your high-beam headlights. This will cause your lights to be directed up into the fog, making it difficult for you to see.

▪ Be mindful of the solid painted white “fog line.” This line is located on the right edge of the road to guide motorists when roadway visibility becomes compromised.

▪  Always maintain a high visual horizon. This will give you the ability to observe potential hazards in the road or vehicles braking suddenly.

▪ Use your windshield wipers and turn on your defroster to help eliminate condensation on windows.

CHP officers will be working tirelessly this winter to ensure the motoring public gets to destinations safely. When fog visibility becomes less than 500 feet, officers will begin to pace traffic. Our pacing efforts are conducted to insure motorists travel at a speed appropriate for traffic and roadway conditions. If you find yourself traveling behind a CHP patrol vehicle with its emergency lights activated while conducting a pace, please remember the following: Maintain a safe distance between you and the patrol car as officers may be required to apply their brakes or make sudden turns.

If you experience mechanical trouble while driving this winter, please attempt to exit the freeway. If you cannot exit the freeway, pull completely off of the right side of the road, turn off of your headlights and activate your hazard lights so others can see you. Remain seat belted in your vehicle and call for help on your mobile phone.

Before leaving for any trip, check road conditions. An easy way to check for updated traffic conditions is by downloading the “Caltrans Quickmap” application on your smart phone. Caltrans Quickmap is a useful navigational tool which will inform you of up to date roadway closures, traffic collisions and other traffic hazards.

As always, please drive safely and be courteous to one, another especially while driving in adverse weather conditions.

CHP Officer Robert Montano can be reached at rmontano@chp.ca.gov. For more from the CHP Central Division, go to the division’s Facebook page.