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AmberPodcast Episode #2 Visibility on the Road

Why is it unacceptable to use fog lights instead of high or low beam in good weather? Did you know that after dark, a pedestrian who does not wear reflectives is visible to the driver from a distance of only a few meters? If you want to find out what to do to be noticed by other road users, listen to the second episode of AmberPodcast, in which, during an interview with Superintendent Joanna Skrent from the Road Traffic Department of the Provincial Headquarters in Gdańsk, we will present effective ways to take care of your safety on the road during difficult road conditions.

Anna Kordecka: Welcome to the second episode of AmberPodcast. Have you ever wondered how weather conditions affect our visibility on the road? Today in AmberPodcast we will explore this topic, analysing how fog, snow or other precipitation affect the safety of all road users. I invited Chief Commissioner Joanna Skrent from the Road Traffic Department of the Provincial Headquarters in Gdańsk to participate in today’s episode.

Joanna Skrent: Good morning.

AK: Why is visibility the basis of road safety?

JS: Visibility is an element that has a very strong impact on our safety. Why? Because if we don’t have that visibility, we just can’t see what’s happening on the road. And this is probably the most important element of noticing any potential danger, to see what the signage is, what the traffic situation is and to adapt your driving style to what is happening on the road.

AK: What weather conditions have the biggest impact on visibility on the road?

JS: First of all, all kinds of conditions that affect the reduction of visibility, so snowfall, rainfall, also fog. It doesn’t have to be a very dense fog, it’s enough that in one place the fog will be bigger, in another place it will thin out a bit. Also, the low sun, which will dazzle us, is also an element that will affect our driving.

AK: What are the special guidelines for using high beams in different weather conditions?

JS: When it comes to lights, first of all, we have to be aware of the fact that there are relevant regulations regarding technical conditions and what kind of lights a given type of vehicle should be equipped with. We have a duty to use these lights, not just from dusk to dawn, as it used to be, but around the clock. Here, from dusk to dawn, cyclists will also be obliged, but also when driving through the tunnel. Because cyclists can remove the lighting during the day, while while riding, even in a tunnel, they also have to put it back on during the day. There are also separate regulations that talk about the use of fog lights. So, when there are these conditions that limit visibility, it’s not just fog, as the name of the lights might suggest, but also rain or snow. We are obliged to use rear fog lights, but only when visibility drops below 50 metres, so not every time. On the other hand, you can have front fog lights, but you don’t have to, it’s not a mandatory piece of equipment. Of course, if we have such lights, they must be in working order and they must also be used only when we have reduced air clarity.

AK: Why is it unacceptable to use fog lights instead of high or low beam in good weather?

JS: Using lights like that, especially if they aren’t set properly, can simply blind other drivers. These fog lights additionally illuminate the space in front of us, so they can be additional sources of dazzling drivers. Especially those coming from the opposite direction, but also those who are driving in front of us. Therefore, such lights cannot be used during normal weather conditions. There are also normal headlights, dipped headlights, or here, if we are talking about dusk, high beams, which are also here in some respects to be used, so as not to dazzle other drivers.

AK: How do special road markings or technologies such as windscreen wipers, adaptive lights or cameras help improve visibility in difficult weather conditions?

JS: First of all, efficient wipers are our visibility. I can’t imagine a situation when we have faulty windshield wipers, we drive during heavy rainfall, even weak, ordinary, normal rainfall, and at that moment, within a few seconds, our windshield is already so “collapsed” with drops that we simply can’t see anything that is in front of us. There are various types of lighting systems, such as pedestrian crossings, which increase visibility in this place if someone is going to be there. But also systems that affect the visibility of the road itself, the so-called “cat’s eyes”, which can be placed on the edges of the road or on the line dividing the lanes, i.e. in conditions of insufficient visibility. Then, when it is also dark, they will mark our path very nicely, which is especially important on curves of the road.

AK: And what are the main dangers for pedestrians on the road and how can they be counteracted?

JS: The  main danger for pedestrians will be simply being involved in a traffic accident, but most often resulting from the fact that the pedestrian was not noticed. So we come back to visibility again, not only as drivers, but above all also pedestrians on the road, who should take care of their visibility. So, on the one hand, behave in such a way as to be sure that the driver has noticed us, for example when crossing a pedestrian crossing. But in conditions of reduced air clarity when it is already after dusk, make sure that you let other road users know that you are on the road with a reflective, a classic reflective or an LED reflective.

AK: What are the recommendations for pedestrians to wear reflective vests?

JS: If we are talking about reflective vests and all reflective elements in general, it would be good if they fulfilled their role first and foremost. In order for them to fulfill their role, they should be certified, i.e. have the appropriate certificate, because what you can notice on the road is that not every reflective vest properly “flashes” the light of the headlights. There are those that are actually visible, because they are bright, but after dusk they will no longer fulfill their function, so it is good to check if this reflector is actually of good quality and fulfills its role. You can do it, even in a shop, if you go somewhere in a darkened place, shine a light on this reflection. First of all, it is good to check whether the reflector and reflective vest you are going to buy has a certificate. The second thing is to dress these reflective elements in such a way that they are visible. So if we put on this reflective and hide it under the sleeve of the jacket or put a large backpack on this reflective vest, we have to take into account that this reflective will not fulfill its role, so it must be visible on the top, for other drivers.

AK: And are there places where visibility on the road is usually limited?

JS: These are very often roads and road sections where there are some plants in the road gauge. Not only trees, but also bushes. It’s also the curves of the road. These are places where an obstacle will be on the edge of the pavement and roadway, and will obstruct the visibility of the pedestrian. On the other hand, it is the curves of the road. Also other objects located along the road that will obstruct this visibility for drivers and they will not be able to see cars that are approaching either from the opposite direction or driving in front of them.

AK: Can car headlights affect a driver’s visual fatigue, especially when driving at night?

JS: Absolutely. If we have poorly adjusted headlights, we will dazzle other drivers. If we follow someone for a long time, we will simply blind them. We will cause his eyes to tire very quickly. At that moment, when our headlights are reflected in his mirrors, his eyes will have a hard time adapting to the darkness in front of him. So he won’t see exactly what’s going on. But also, if we have dirty headlights, tarnished very much, we will limit our own visibility. We won’t just have the full light that our headlights should give on the road.

AK: Is there any way we can take care of maintaining the efficiency of the headlights so as to maximize visibility?

JS: Of course, we can take care of the light of our vehicles by looking at whether they are dirty or not. It is a good idea, especially during long journeys, to wash not only the windshield, not only the side windows, but also the headlights of our vehicles. On the other hand, see if they have become tarnished. You can even refresh these headlights at home and make them give you the full light of your car lighting.

AK: And what are these home remedies for cleaning headlights?

JS: Such a home remedy would be, m.in, the purchase of a suitable polishing paste, which is designed to polish the surface of the reflector. Of course, you can get such a service from a professional service. But you can also do it at home, by getting such a special paste plus a headlight polisher, and in fact you can very quickly notice how big a difference there is between such a matted, half-light reflector, and a practically transparent, such a mirror headlight.

AK: Limited visibility is also a huge threat to pedestrians, as we mentioned earlier. Especially those who wear dark clothes and don’t wear reflectives. What are the benefits of wearing reflectives, especially in low visibility conditions? How does this affect the pedestrian’s chance of avoiding a collision with a car?

JS: The biggest benefit is simply to preserve your own life and health, because a pedestrian in a collision with a vehicle is much less likely to avoid any serious injury. Very often these are accidents with multiple injuries when it comes to pedestrians. Here you can very easily refer to life and compare what a person without a reflective element looks like and their visibility on the road to what the use of reflective elements looks like. Let’s imagine that we are driving on the road at a speed of about 90 km per hour, here, if there is a person on the road without any reflective element, we will notice them only about 20-30 meters, sometimes even 15 meters away from them, and driving at this speed, i.e. 90 km per hour, we will drive almost these 20-30 meters for one second. So that’s practically the distance we’re going to walk in one second. And the driver’s reaction time is just one second, but that’s the reaction time. Add to that the braking system itself, the stopping distance of the vehicle, so it will be much too late. When we see a pedestrian, in fact, in the next fraction of a second, he will land on our bonnet; we’re going to hit him. On the other hand, if a pedestrian has a reflective element, we can see it, especially if it is outside a built-up area, in high beams, we will see it from about 150 meters, so we have a five times greater chance of avoiding a collision with a vehicle. And that’s really the fine line that keeps us from being involved in a road accident.

AK: Is the driver of the vehicle obliged to have a reflective vest in the vehicle?

JS: If he is a driver, he is not obliged to do so according to Polish law. But it would be very good if each of us had such a reflective vest in our vehicle. And not just one, preferably several, if we move somewhere with other people. Why? It is very easy to imagine a situation where a vehicle breaks down and we have to get out of the vehicle, set the warning triangle, change the wheel, check what happened to our vehicle, sometimes some breakdown as a result of overheating of the vehicle. And that’s where we actually become pedestrians. So, first of all, we have this legal obligation, as pedestrians outside built-up areas, to use reflective elements. But the second most important thing, our safety. When such a story happens to us after dark, setting up a warning triangle can be a dangerous task, especially on motorways, so here it is very important that we ourselves are visible. That is why we encourage you, as the police, to use reflective elements not only where the law requires us to do so. Not only at these times, but all year round, even in summer, so that we have a reflective element with us, precisely to properly protect both the vehicle and ourselves during such a vehicle breakdown. But also simply, that in every situation, whether we are pedestrians, or during a vehicle breakdown, or we are riding a bike. Even in the summer, it may happen to us that in the evening we will be returning somewhere from the lake, from the sea, from rest, and it is good to take care of our safety.

AK: Thank you for today’s meeting, in which the guest was Superintendent Joanna Skrent from the Road Traffic Department of the Provincial Headquarters in Gdańsk and see you in the next episodes of AmberPodcast.

 

17+24 km: Traffic runs on two lanes in the direction of  Gdańsk and one lane in the direction of Łódź.

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