Chapter 10: Special Driving Conditions

chapter 10


Note:  Practice quizzes are available only for those sections of the manual covering rules of the road (Chapters 4 through 11 and Road Signs).

Even under the best conditions, driving demands your full attention and your best judgment. When special situations or hazards arise, attention and judgment become even more important. To be a competent and safe driver, you must learn how to drive on expressways, at night, in poor weather and when an emergency occurs.


"Expressway" means any divided highway where traffic is going in one direction on two or more lanes. You usually enter or exit the expressway by using ramps (controlled-access). The speed limit is usually 55 mph (88 km/h), but may be posted at 65 mph (100 km/h) in some rural areas. Examples are the New York State Thruway, major interstate routes, and parkways.

Know where to get on and off the expressway, and be prepared to get into the proper lanes for your entrance and exit. If you miss an exit, however, never back up to get back on the expressway. Get off at the next exit, and look for signs that tell you how to get back on the expressway going the other way.

expressway driving

Unless there is a STOP or YIELD sign or traffic light on the entrance ramp, use the ramp to accelerate to expressway speed and blend with traffic. Signal, then look over your shoulder for approaching traffic already on the expressway. If necessary, slow down to safely merge into traffic.

If the entrance lane is too short to allow acceleration to expressway speed, the safest way to enter is to stop and wait for a large gap in traffic. Then enter the expressway and accelerate quickly. To avoid conflicts with other entrance lane traffic, stop only if necessary and merge into expressway traffic as soon as possible.

As you drive on the expressway, be sure to signal all lane changes and check over your shoulder to be sure you will not cut off any vehicles behind you. Make sure your directional signal goes off after you change lanes.

Stay alert for traffic entering ahead. If possible, move out of the right lane as you approach entrances to allow more room for merging traffic.

To avoid a last-minute lane change, check destination and exit signs, and get into the proper lane for your exit well ahead of time. Be sure to signal your exit at least 100 feet (30 m) before you reach the exit ramp. Once you are on the exit ramp, slow down. There is often a lower speed posted for the ramp.

After you leave an expressway, look for speed limit signs and check your speedometer to be sure you're driving within the posted limit. You are probably no longer on a 55 mph (88 km/h) road.

Expressway driving usually combines high speeds with heavy traffic, and you must be alert. The higher speed and traffic volume require you to think faster and handle your vehicle more efficiently than in most other driving situations. On long trips, plan frequent rest stops. On a bright day, sunglasses can reduce glare and eye fatigue.



About 90 percent of your driving decisions are based on what you see. At night, you must use extra caution to make up for reduced visibility. You should also be aware that the ability to see well at night generally declines with age.

Night driving is more dangerous because the distance you can see ahead or to the side is reduced. You should drive slower than you would in daylight, especially in unfamiliar areas or on narrow, winding roads. Your headlights cover about 350 feet ahead. It is important that you drive at a speed that allows you to react and stop safely within that distance. This is called "driving within the range" of your headlights.

The law requires you to use your headlights from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise, when visibility is less than 1,000 feet (300 m) and whenever you are using your windshield wipers to clear rain, snow, sleet, etc. Turn your headlights on at dawn and dusk and in fog, too. Even when headlights do not help you see in low light periods, they make it much easier for other drivers and pedestrians to see your vehicle. Do not use parking lights or daytime running lights as a substitute, headlights do a better job. If an approaching driver flashes headlights at you during a period of low visibility, it probably means your vehicle was hard to see, and you should turn on your headlights.

Be considerate in using your high beams. Your headlights must be on low beam when you are within 500 feet (150 m) of an approaching vehicle, or within 200 feet (60 m) of a vehicle ahead of you, even if the vehicle ahead is in a different lane. You should also dim your lights for pedestrians approaching you.

If an approaching driver does not dim his or her lights, flash yours to high beam for a second, then back to low beam. To help avoid the glare of approaching high beams, shift your eyes to the right. Use the road edge as a guide until the approaching vehicle passes by.

To reduce glare from the lights of following vehicles, switch your interior rear view mirror to the "night" position.

Light from inside your vehicle or from street lights makes it harder for you to see the road ahead. Keep the interior dome light off and dim the dashboard lights. Adjust your sun visor to reduce glare from overhead lights.

You cannot see well at night with dirty headlights or windows. A dirty windshield greatly increases glare from approaching headlights. Make sure your lights and glass are clean for night driving.



Experienced drivers know that even just a thin coating of rain, snow or ice makes roads slippery. And wet leaves can be especially slippery and hazardous. You can improve your driving safety by slowing down under these conditions and by increasing your following distance (see Chapter 8). Be extra careful on curves, turns and expressway ramps.

In heavy rain, your vehicle's tires may begin to actually ride on the water lying on top of the road pavement. This "hydroplaning" can cause complete loss of traction and steering control. Hydroplaning usually occurs at higher speeds, but it also can occur if your vehicle's tires are tread worn or improperly inflated. When there is heavy rain, it is almost always wise to drive more slowly. If your vehicle begins losing traction, slow down even more. Good tires with deep tread help prevent hydroplaning.

Rain, fog, or snow makes it harder to see out through your vehicle's windshield, and difficult for other drivers to see you. New York State law requires you to turn on your vehicle's headlights whenever the weather conditions would ordinarily require the use of windshield wipers to clear rain, snow, sleet, and other precipitation. "Daytime running lights" do not qualify as headlights. If your windshield wipers cause streaks or smears, the blades must be replaced.

High headlight beams reflect off rain, fog and falling snow. This makes it even harder for you to see where you are going. For better visibility during these weather conditions, keep your vehicle's headlights on low beam. Reduce your speed. Signal your turns further ahead of time than usual to give other drivers and roadway users increased warning. Brake early when slowing behind another vehicle or coming to an intersection stop.

Some vehicles have front fog lights, or front and rear fog lights, for use when heavy fog or similar hazardous weather conditions seriously restrict the driver's visibility. In New York State, all fog lights must be properly installed and of a type approved by the Commissioner of DMV. Front fog lights may be amber or white in color. Rear fog lights must be red and may be larger than the vehicle's regular taillights - they are intended to give advanced warning of your vehicle's presence to the drivers behind you. When visibility improves, you should switch off your vehicle's rear fog lights to reduce the glare that might affect other drivers.



Winter is the most difficult driving season. Not only do you have snow and ice to deal with, but there are fewer hours of daylight as well.

Before winter weather arrives, make sure your vehicle is in good condition. Make sure your vehicle has good snow tires. Put them on the vehicle early, before the first snowfall. Never combine radial and non-radial tires on the same vehicle. On front-wheel drive cars, it is best to put snow tires or "all-season" tires on all four wheels, not just the front. Tires with metal studs may be used in New York State only from October 16 through April 30.

During ice or snowstorms, especially when a traveler's advisory is issued, do not drive unless it is absolutely necessary. If you must drive, first clear the ice and snow from your vehicle, including the headlights and taillights, the windshield wipers and all of the windows. Be sure the windshield washer reservoir is adequately filled with a freeze-resistant cleaning solution.

Drive slowly. Even if your vehicle has good traction in ice and snow, other drivers will be traveling cautiously. Do not disrupt the flow of traffic by driving faster than everyone else.

In a rear-wheel drive vehicle, you can usually feel a loss of traction or the beginning of a skid. With a front-wheel drive vehicle, there may be no warning. Though front-wheel drive and four-wheel drive vehicles generally do handle better in ice and snow, they do not have flawless traction; skids can occur unexpectedly. Do not let the better feel and handling of a vehicle with front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive cause you to drive faster than you should.

Despite popular misconception, the best approach to recovering from a skid is the same for both front and rear-wheel drive vehicles.


If your rear wheels start to skid:

  • Turn the steering wheel in the direction you want the front wheels to go. If your rear wheels are sliding left, steer left. If they're sliding right, steer right.

  • If your rear wheels start sliding the other way as you recover, ease the steering wheel toward that side. You might have to steer left and right a few times to get your vehicle completely under control.

  • If your vehicle has an anti-lock braking system (ABS), keep your foot with even pressure on the brake pedal. If your vehicle does not have ABS, pump the pedal gently, pumping more rapidly only as your car slows down. Braking hard with non-anti-lock brakes will make the skid worse.

If your front wheels skid:

  • Take your foot off the gas and shift to neutral or push in the clutch, but do not try to immediately steer.

  • As the wheels skid sideways, they will slow the vehicle and traction will return. As it does, steer in the direction you want to go. Then put the transmission in "drive" or release the clutch, and accelerate gently.

To avoid skids on snow and ice, brake early, carefully and gently. "Squeeze" your brakes in slow, steady strokes. Allow the wheels to keep rolling. If they begin to lock up, ease off the brake pedal. As your vehicle slows, you also may want to shift into a lower gear.

When sleet, freezing rain or snow start to fall, remember that bridges, ramps, and overpasses are likely to freeze first. Also be aware that slippery spots may still remain after road crews have cleared the highways.



Two-thirds of all deer/vehicle collisions happen during the months of October, November and December. This is also breeding season, when deer are most actively traveling about. Daily deer activity peaks at dawn and dusk, which often is peak motor-vehicle commuter traveling times. Deer travel in groups - if you see one, expect more. Highway areas where there have been numerous deer/vehicle collisions often are already marked with deer crossing signs. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation recommends these precautions motorists can take to reduce their chances of striking a deer:

  • Use extreme caution when driving at dawn and dusk; this is when driver visibility is poor and the deer are most active.

  • The risk of deer/vehicle collisions is greatest when deer movements peak due to the onset of the breeding season during the months of October, November and December.

  • Slow down when approaching deer that are standing near roadsides. Deer may "bolt" or change direction at the last minute.

  • If you see a deer cross the road, slow down and use extreme caution. Deer travel in groups, expect other deer to follow.

  • Use flashers or a headlight signal to warn other drivers when deer are spotted on or near the road.

  • Use caution and be alert when driving on roadways marked with deer crossing signs. These signs are placed in areas that have had a large number of deer/vehicle collisions.



The single most important rule in any emergency is do not panic. You have a better chance of handling the emergency safely if you do not let fear take over. In most emergencies, you will have a second or two to think before you act.

Here is what to do in various emergency situations:

TIRE BLOWOUT - A thumping sound may be a warning that a blowout is about to occur. If you hear it, get safely off the road and check your tires. If a tire blows out, hold the steering wheel firmly, and ease your foot off the gas pedal. If your vehicle skids, handle it as you would on ice or snow. Do not use your brake until your vehicle is under control. Get off the road as soon as it safe to do so.

LOSS OF A WHEEL - Handle this as you would a blow out. A thump or clunk in the wheel may be a warning sound. Pull off the roadway and stop. Then check your vehicle or have it checked.

STEERING FAILURE - If your vehicle suddenly stops responding to the steering wheel, ease your foot off the gas pedal, turn on your vehicle's four-way flashers and keep your foot off the brake pedal for as long as it is safe and practical. The vehicle's natural balance should allow it to continue going straight, but a sudden change in speed could spin it out of control. As the vehicle slows down, you may be able to brake very gently to bring it to a stop.

BRAKE FAILURE - If your brake pedal suddenly sinks to the floor, try pumping it to build up pressure. If that does not help, use your emergency or parking brake - but use it gently. Shifting to a lower gear will also help your vehicle slow down.

HEADLIGHT FAILURE - If your headlights suddenly go out, try your vehicle's four-way flashers, parking lights and directional signals. These may still work and should give you enough light to get safely off the road. If your headlights begin to dim, drive to a nearby service station, or pull off the road and go for help.

STUCK GAS PEDAL - Hook your toe under the pedal and see if you can free it. If not, shift into neutral and use the brake to slow your vehicle and get off the road. Do not turn off the ignition if your vehicle has power steering or a steering wheel that has a locking column because, if you do, you will lose power steering or not be able to steer at all.

RUNNING OFF THE PAVEMENT - If your wheels drift off the pavement onto the shoulder of the road, do not yank the steering wheel back. Ease your foot off the gas pedal, and brake gently. When your vehicle has slowed down, check for traffic behind you, then steer gently back onto the pavement.

VEHICLE APPROACHING HEAD-ON IN YOUR LANE - Slow down, pull over to the right and sound your horn to alert the other driver. Do not swing over to the left lane. If you do, the other driver may suddenly recover and pull back into that lane, too, causing a head-on collision.

STALLING ON RAILROAD TRACKS - If a train is approaching, unfasten your seat belt, get out of the vehicle and get as far away as you can from the tracks. Run toward the general direction the train is coming from. If you run "down the track," in the same direction the train is heading, you may be hit with debris when the train strikes your vehicle. Only if you are absolutely sure no trains are coming, open your window to listen for an approaching train and try to start the engine. If that fails, shift your vehicle into neutral and push it off the tracks.

GOING INTO WATER - A vehicle will usually float for a while, and you should have time to get out before it starts sinking. Unfasten your seat belt and escape through a window. Opening a door would cause water to rush in, and the car could overturn on top of you.

If the vehicle sinks before you can get out, climb into the rear seat. An air pocket may form there as the weight of the engine pulls the vehicle down nose first. When the vehicle settles, take a breath and escape through a window. As you rise, air pressure will build in your lungs. Let it out in small breaths through your nose or lips as you surface. Do not hold your breath tightly or try to blow air out; just allow the air to escape naturally.

FIRE - If you see smoke come from under your vehicle's hood, pull off the road and park your vehicle. Turn off the ignition. Get away from the car and call the fire department. Trying to fight the fire yourself is dangerous.

BLOCKED VISION - If your vehicle's hood flies open suddenly, or your vision through the windshield becomes blocked by some other object or wipers that have failed, you should roll down the side window so you can see. Turn on your vehicle's four-way flashers and carefully pull your vehicle off the road and park it.




Before going on to Chapter 11, make sure you can answer questions:

  • What should you do if you miss an expressway exit?

  • What are expressway entrance ramps used for?

  • What should you do if an entrance ramp is very short?

  • When should you signal that you are exiting an expressway?

  • What should you check for after leaving an expressway?

  • Why is expressway driving different from ordinary driving?

  • What is the main reason night driving is more difficult than daytime driving?

  • Driving within the range of your headlights means you should be able to stop your vehicle within about how many feet?

  • What should you do if headlights on approaching vehicles make it hard for you to see?

  • Is it best to keep your headlights on high beam or low beam in fog, rain and falling snow?

  • Which way should you turn your steering wheel to get out of a skid?

  • How should you use your brake pedal on a slippery road?

  • What is the most important rule to remember in any driving emergency?

  • What should you do if one of your tires blows out?

  • What is the first thing you should do if your brakes fail?

  • What should you do if your wheels drift off the pavement?


End of Chapter 10: check mark Take the Quiz!

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