Fog is no longer what it used to be. It is easy for certain romantics to regret mist and fog, but those who drive a lot in the winter months definitely do not. There have been seasons in the past when ‘walls' of fog caused terrible and deadly pile-ups, but for the last few years, this phenomenon has been a rare occurrence, usually in banks and in low-altitude areas quite renowned for fog. But fog banks are a great danger, because they come up on you so suddenly, perhaps even when you're driving quite fast.
While we wait for self-driving cars to become a reality, and which will allow us even to see in the dark and therefore in fog (like pilots do on planes), we can raise the level of safety by taking some precautions and driving more carefully. In any case, always remember that your car must be equipped with its emergency triangle and at least one reflective vest, which you must wear if you get out of your vehicle in the event of a breakdown. Accidents often involve people who hang around a stationary car: making sure you are noticed by others protects your life, and it is even more important to be clearly visible in fog.
Perfect lights at all times
The headlights on your car are, at the moment, the only tool available to search for a minimum free field of vision. That's why you need to check that all your light bulbs, from the front and rear lights to the direction indicators, are working correctly. If a light is faulty, replace the pair: for example, if the front right-hand low beam headlight bulb has blown, it is better to replace the left-hand one too. This will ensure you have an equal brightness on both sides and will anticipate the subsequent failure of the surviving light bulb.
For traditional light bulbs, you could choose more powerful variants, with a whiter light, or one that simulates Xenon light. Never choose at random, it makes sense to consult your car electrician to check that the light bulb is type-approved and that the absorption rating is suitable for the basic system (to prevent overheating or voltage drops). Among other things, with real Xenon headlights or LEDs, you need to contact a car electrician, since special procedures are required for their replacement.
The importance of glazing
To drive well at all times (and even more so through fog), the air conditioning must be in perfect working order. This is because it reduces humidity in the passenger compartment, preventing the windows from misting up and increasing safety. It is therefore essential to have the refrigerant fluid level checked and topped up if necessary. The pollen filter must not be more than one year old. And at least once a month, the interior of the windscreen and all other glazing should be cleaned, wiping off the patina that may form, and which creates troublesome optical effects in poor visibility conditions.
Also worth reading: Safety First: how to keep your car clean and hygienic
On the exterior, your windscreen wipers must be perfectly efficient: if they are worn, they will leave streaks on the windscreen which, especially at night, could prevent visibility. To check the condition of wear, just wipe the tip of your finger over the rubber “blade”: if it is rough to the touch or dented, it is time to replace the part.
The windscreen washer system must also be fully functional: the spray nozzles must be free to ‘fire' the fluid in the centre of the windscreen. Beware of outside temperatures: using water is no good, because it freezes at zero degrees. You need to use a detergent which, in addition to degreasing, also lowers the freezing temperature. In winter a concentration that reaches at least -20° is ideal.
Speed and common sense
Let's move on to actual driving. Driving in the slipstream of the car ahead, as some might think, is not a stroke of genius and it can even become a danger. If you want to follow another car, you have to choose one travelling at the correct speed and at the right distance: to be clear, you need to see its rear lights.
Then, the front fog lights should be used alone, not together with the low-beam headlights, as too many people still think is the right thing to do. Fog is made up of millions of droplets suspended in the air, so if you shed light on it, it is reflected like tiny little mirrors and you will be dazzled by the glare of your own light. The main beam headlights should only be used in the presence of weak fog.
Overtaking: it's best to avoid this even if the road seems free. It is always better to travel at a low and constant speed, say about 50 km/h. Last but not least, use your obvious common sense: especially at night, if you realize that the situation is not sustainable, you might even be tired or there may possibly be problems with your vehicle lights, then it is better to pull over as soon as possible and wait for the fog to lift a little before getting back on the road.