Munich - The days are getting shorter, and many commuters now make their morning and evening journeys almost entirely in the dark. As if the restricted visibility resulting from this change were not bad enough, it is also accompanied by the first days of frost and fog. We frequently underestimate the slippery road conditions caused by autumn leaves or mud from the tyres of agricultural vehicles bringing in the harvest. TÜV SÜD’s experts have some tips on how to avoid slipping and sliding through the autumn.
Mud: When agricultural vehicles harvest crops, their tyres deposit mud from the fields on the roads – and can transform them into a skating rink. "Wet earth can be as slippery as a snow-covered road surface", warns Eberhard Lang from TÜV SÜD. In both these conditions, tyres have only around one-fifth of the grip they have on dry asphalt. But while drivers generally take good care when negotiating snowy roads, many fail to adjust their speed significantly when they see mud ahead.
Leaves: Wet leaves are roughly as slippery as mud and snow. Any heavy use of the brake will immediately activate the anti-lock braking system (ABS) – so reducing speed on foliage-covered roads is an eminently sensible move. In addition, the leaves may be concealing potholes, stones or other obstacles.
Rain: Precipitation in October is far lower than, say, June in statistical terms. But when darkness and smeared windscreens from wipers are added to the equation, driving through rainy regions becomes a whole lot harder. A further concern is that the first rain after a lengthy dry period may not only result in the risk of hydroplaning, but also create a slippery film caused by a mixture of road dust, worn-off tyre particles and other dirt. This film may even form foam in contact with water – a sure sign of a slippery road. In addition, windscreen wipers that still smear after windows and wiper blades have been thoroughly cleaned should be replaced by a new set of blades, advises TÜV SÜD.
Frost: Depending on the region and climatic conditions, October is usually the month when the first frost arrives, so drivers and cars need to be prepared. Winter tyres are mandatory in hoarfrost, ice and snow, and an anticipatory driving style is likewise strongly advisable. TÜV SÜD recommends that drivers should not rely too much on their external temperature sensor. "The sensor may be affected by other environmental influences, and the actual temperature of the asphalt may be far lower than what is shown on the display", explains Lang, pointing out that at temperatures below 3°C slippery roads must be expected at any time unless the weather is extremely dry; this applies particularly to bridges, forest tracks and road cuts.
Mist and fog: Germany had a national average of four foggy days throughout November 2010. However, in foggy regions this figure is likely to be much higher. Cautious drivers are often shocked at the lack of respect for one particular rule of the road: where visibility drops below 50 metres, the maximum speed is 50 km/h, and rear fog lights may be used only at lower visibility than this. Front fog lights, however, can be used before this stage – they are also permitted where visibility is poor because of heavy rain or snow.
Lights: As the nights draw in and the days become shorter up to 21 December, dipped headlights are vital equipment for motorists. TÜV SÜD recommends driving with headlights on as a matter of course; otherwise, a good rule of thumb is to use headlights in case of doubt. "With cars that have daytime running lights, drivers must be sure to switch to full beam in good time", advises Lang. The car’s lighting system should naturally be in good working order; drivers can be on the safe side by having their lights checked in October. TÜV SÜD service centres and workshops will perform free testing on the functions and settings of headlamps and other vehicle lights until the end of the month. Drivers can locate their nearest service centre quickly and easily by searching www.tuev-sued.de