Fall On the Road

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Visibility starts with your windshield

Visibility is an essential component of automotive safety. According to the United States Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration, inability to clearly see the road, other motorists and potential obstacles is a leading contributor to automotive accidents and injury.

Approximately half of all fatalities due to motor vehicle crashes occur at night, even though the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration notes that traffic volume is substantially less at night. Lack of visibility, which may result from a dirty windshield or inclement weather, can render pavement markings nearly invisible or throw off drivers' senses of direction.

Poor visibility can be hazardous, and drivers must take steps to ensure they have maximum visibility at all times, whether it's day or night or if the weather is poor or fair.

One of the best ways to ensure maximum visibility is to keep your windshield clean. Not all windshield washer fluids and wipers are created equally. For example, some washer fluids are ineffective in freezing temperatures. Frozen washer fluid can cause a complete blockage of the system and greatly impair visibility.

As anyone who has driven on snowy and/or salty roads can attest, such substances can quickly gather on windshields, where they crust up and impede visibility. A windshield cleaning system that is not working effectively is a recipe for an accident.

Always read the product label before purchasing washer fluid. Summer blends are only effective when temperatures remain above 32 F. When the mercury dips below freezing, these fluids freeze up. Winter formulas should contain an antifreeze solution that will lower the freezing point of the liquid. Many such fluids employ methanol to not only prevent freezing but also to melt frost and light accumulations of ice.

Drivers also may be able to supplement their washer fluids with common items to increase durability during extreme cold snaps. Mix 99 percent isopropyl rubbing alcohol into the washer fluid to prevent it from freezing. Otherwise, the washer fluid brand may have specific instructions for mixing for use in areas where the temperature regularly dips below freezing.

In addition to maintaining an obstruction-free washer fluid system, drivers can reduce accidents from poor visibility by heeding these tips from The National Weather Service:

• Clear your windshield and mirrors before getting on the road.

• Drive slow to maintain a safe stopping distance.

• Be aware that, when driving in conditions where visibility is impaired, drivers tend to follow the tail lights of the vehicles in front of them. Keep your headlights on to improve your own visibility and help others see your car.

• Don't slow down so much that you become a hazard to other drivers.

• If necessary, pull off the road and wait for conditions to improve. When pulling off, park as far off the road as possible, then turn off your headlights and put on your hazard lights.