Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Whiteout.

There is a certain composition of asphalt that lets a sheet of water sit atop it; this makes driving at night in the rain very hairy for me, as the lane markers disappear in the reflections of light off the pavement.

It can be worse in the day time. There's a stretch of this asphalt just south of Florence, Kentucky, and I hit it Sunday afternoon, driving out the backside of a squall line and into an area of thin overcast with the sun trying to break through.

The sky was a brilliant, even sheet of white. Vehicles were throwing massive clouds of spray from the standing water, and the freeway was full of heavy traffic, still moving at a brisk 65-70. And best of all, the sheet of water on the pavement was reflecting back the bright, even white of the sky like a mirror.

Of course hardly anybody other than me had their lights on. And every now and then some driver, invariably in a white Marquis or silver Accord, would panic and lift off the gas and your first warning would be when the churning cloud of mist ahead of you began to darken imperceptibly some three car lengths in front of your bumper.

It was pretty white-knuckle, and the BMW, with its 3-series sedan genes, isn't even all that terribly low-slung. I can only imagine what it would have been like in something where you really sit with your butt on the pavement, like a Miata or Corvette.


(Note To Self: New wiper blades before the drive home probably wouldn't hurt, either)

38 comments:

Joanna said...

Oh, that's one of my favorite pet peeves. The lights aren't so you can see, they're so you can be seen! Geez, people ... I wonder if there's a connection between that and not signalling lane changes?

Anonymous said...

"f there's a connection between that and not signalling lane changes?"

Gods, I'm not the only crank yelling at people to use their flipping signal lights so I may have some idea what their intentions are?! Maybe we can form a club or something.

Tam - slow down.

Andy said...

I'm glad I'm not the only person with the problem of seeing the lines in the rain. With all the rain down here in the ATL of late, I've just stayed home.

Michael said...

Rain-X. That stuff is amazing.

krazmo said...

What Michael said, plus a recommendation for the Rain-X washer fluid. Looks like Tang, sheds water like a duck. I love it.

Diogenes said...

Serengeti Driver's sunglasses help immensely with this kind of glare. Friends give me crap for wearing sunglasses when it's overcast. I just hand them mine and all it takes is one look at the world thru henna colored lenses to make believers of them.

$100 at Wally World...

OA said...

"$100 at Wally World..."

Tam doesn't work for the Fed.

Joanna said...

I'm not paying a hundred bucks for something I'm going to leave at the pool. Heck, my sunglasses broke back in June and I still haven't replaced them.

Joanna said...

And the lane change thing? Yeah. Maybe if they'd HANG UP THE FLIPPING PHONE ... *argle bargle rant rant rant*

Ian Argent said...

I get by with $15 polarized target specials. (Admittedly, I get the wrong end of the Vimes Theory of Boots Inequality with them - but I would run through the c-note ones at only half the rate of consumption based on similar cost comparisons).

It doesn't get you much further through the rain and fog I get here in the PRNJ, but I'll take any advantage I can get.

(NJ drivers are worlds better than the northern VA semi-domesticated beltway turkey, among whom I learned to drive, though. I almost always see turn signals, for example)

OA said...

Nonsense. New Jersey drivers can't be trusted to pump their own gas or use a proper left turn lane.

Diogenes said...

"$100 at Wally World..."

Tam doesn't work for the Fed.


$100 is a damn sight less than my auto PD deductible. I also find that I'm a bit more careful with them than the "Panama Jack" variety...

perlhaqr said...

Ayup. Drove from Colorado Springs back to Albuquerque yesterday, and the entire Colorado portion of the trip was rainy, varying from "mild" to "holy fuck where is the road?"

And nothing makes asphalt disappear like a semi-truck putting up 18 wheels worth of spray.

Diogenes said...

The reason that the Seregeti shades are expensive is that they use a coated glass lens, not plastic. The difference in clarity is remarkable - especially in crappy visibility situations.

Andy said...

In 2000, I got my eye surgery (20/13!) and treated myself to one nice, $115 pair of sunglasses. Kept 'em around 5 years, so I figure it was about the same as 5 pairs of $20 glasses from the mall stand that last a year.

Now, back to the $10 pairs.

OA said...

"$100 is a damn sight less than my auto PD deductible. I also find that I'm a bit more careful with them than the "Panama Jack" variety..."

The comment wasn't about you, it was about Tam.

Mike W. said...

+ 1 millon on the Rain-X.

I made a trip from DE to Niagara Falls in pouring rain with no wipers. It was my friends car and he'd managed to drill a hole through the wiring for his wipers the night before our trip. His speedometer also wasn't working the whole trip...

Pulled over a couple times to re-apply the stuff and we survived even in torrential rains through NY.

cj said...

I remember this when I lived and worked in the midwest. I swear it's something about the paint they use and not just the glare, since I had nights where a little rain would make lanes invisible.

I've lived around various other parts of the country and never had a similar problem.

Stranger said...

Well - in some parts of the world, New Orleans for example, giving a lane change signal is a direct order for the guy behind you to hit the gas and get in the hole you were about to fill.

Lane changes must be done VERY carefully, and signals may be best omitted. If you value your sheet metal.

Stranger

reflectoscope said...

Beware the get-there-itis.

Jim

karrde said...

Dang.

I've seen an honest-to-goodness whiteout from snow in a blizzard, but no one in their right mind was traveling more than 30 miles per hour. (And it was a quiet, rural State Highway...)

The rainstorm kind is scary, because half of the people slow down, and half don't...

Matt G said...

Joanna beat me to it.

I get furious at the incredible egocentricity of people who drive without lights on because "I can see just fine." That's awesome, Sparky, but when you're driving a gray automobile (oh, I know that it's "muted platinum silver" or some such when it comes fromt he showroom, but right this second, it's frickin' gray.), at twilight, with the sun behind you, your car turns into a ghost. Yes, we know that the sun lights YOUR way. Good!

And when driving in difuse light where admittedly the headlights don't light your way one bit, they provide necessary markers so that people can not knock your indifferent arse into the ditch.

Matt G said...

Oh, and the Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread that I've found is that more and more car washes are offering Rain-X in their manual car wash, instead of wax. Interestingly, this can be applied while your car is wet. As a matter of fact, they suggest that you rinse off the car after you apply it. I've lately found myself pulling into the local car wash to wash my windshield and windows during the pouring rain, lately. Best $1.00 I ever spend.

B said...

Rain-X, as others have said. Buy some, and keep it in the car. You can even get the little pouches that are great for quick touch ups. Just be sure your windshield is clean the first time, as rain-X soaked bugs become a semi permanent part of your windshield.

SRSLY...

TheOtherLarry said...

Using my turn signals would reveal my intentions to the enemy!

Will said...

NJ, and now CA, have regs that mandate headlights on if your windshield is getting wet at all.

Steve Skubinna said...

Second... third? Forth? Whatever, the Rain-X. It's worth the minor hassle to apply it. Seriously, I live in the Great Northwest. You think you got rain? None of you pissy little crybabies have a damn RAIN FOREST in your state, do you?

All right then.

And also, I endorse the Good Sunglasses Theory. Not only do you see better, but in my experience, having plumped down the simoleons for a really good pair is an incentive not to leave them somewhere and not to sit on them. Cheap sunglasses are just not worth it. If they're crappy enough to be considered disposable, they too crappy to use as safety gear.

Parallel said...

Learned the hard way:

Mazda RX-8 cruise control will stay engaged even after traction control figures out the contact patches are occasionally hydroplaning.

After a -75 to +135 degree yaw excursion, in conjunction with the faintest interface between bodywork and Interstate concrete center divider, I finally figured out why you disengage cruise control on anything but straight and dry road surfaces.

JimB said...

NJ has a lot laws. Unfortunately not many people pay attention to them.

Andy said...

All the Rain-X comments reminded me...

It's excellent for glass shower doors/walls as well. A little water on the glass at the end rinses away all soap, etc.

Ian Argent said...

NJ has left turn lanes - in fact they can manage to mix jug-handles and left turn lanes indiscriminately on the same chunk of highway. In at least one case, there's an intersection within 10 miles of me that has BOTH (technically the jughandle is for u-turns only as the left-turn lane doesn't have enough clearance for safe u-turns). Jug-handles are a method of reducing congestion by taking left-turn people off the main through lanes; and to allow u-turns when there isn't enough clearance for, say, an 18-wheeler to make it 'round. Some places they could be signed better, and there are some truly weird ones, but by and large they're not bad.

Pumping gas isn't a stupidity thing - it's a jobs program. (Government stupidity, admittedly... Holdover from the depression AFAIK). There was a push to repeal recently, didn't get very far. People like convenience (and now that the pay-at pumps have finally made it here, it's not too bad. The stations generally do have to compete on service, so timewise it's not any longer to wait for the guy to show than to get out an pump yourself.)

NJ's wipers-on lights-on law was passed well after I moved here. This surprised me since it featured prominently in my drivers ed in VA and was on the written exam. Still don't see enough people with their lights on during the day. Sometimes think that a couple of PSA on the subjectg would do a world of good.

Didn't learn the proper use of turn signals until I came up here either - the NoVA S-D Turkey will close the gap if you make known by thought or word or deed that you want to change lanes. Instead, it's used to count coup once you have made the lane change.

Ditto the rain-X - under light-rain conditions over about 30, I don't even have to use the wipers as the rain beads up and flows off better than the wipers would clear it, without distracting me by flicking stuff in my field of view. Heavier rain (or mist) or slow speeds still require wiper assist, but it's still a notable difference. You can get the stuff to put it in your windshield wiper tank - that's how I did it.

(To note - I grew up in many different places, moved to NJ for college and ended up staying. Doing my bit to change the minds of NJ, one mind at a time)

Dr. StrangeGun said...

Rain... asphalt...

http://posterboard.tv/daewoo/the-end/

strange calls to work after surreal calls to 911...

Dr. StrangeGun said...

Wish I could just edit comments to add things.

Parallel;

My little excursion was something close. I foudn the hard way that when the passenger front tire deflates at speed (~60mph) in those conditions, the car is pretty much left in a completely uncontrollable state.

Unfortunately my interface with the highway divider wasn't even close to minor :)

In the same car much earlier, I learned the cruise lesson... very rainy night on the way back from Atlanta, and the car started "humping"... I thought something was starting to go south in the engine, but only for as long as it took to see the speedo and tach jumping wildly. Daewoo cruise control apparently recognizes traction loss and halts at +15mph, then resumes at previous, making for a totally wierd "humping" dynamic. Daewoos are also FWD, no yaw effects from that thank god, or I'd have wrecked it that night rather than years later.

I can't believe I still miss that car.

Will said...

Dr. SG,

The results of your flat front tire was torque steer (yaw). If that had been a RWD car, probably no problem. FWD cars are supposed to be safer for the majority of drivers, however, I think that benefit was oversold when the auto makers started marketing them. Torque steer enabled crashes (or spin-outs) are very surprising to drivers. A proper response appears to not be intuitive, or else it occurs without sufficient time to counter. When I was patrolling the SF Bay Area freeways, I saw a steady stream of off road excursions at the same spots. Dry road spin-outs, ending in ditches or against sound walls or trees. Came to realize they were front wheel drive cars. Usually making a quick lane change to get to an offramp. Some combination of chopping the gas while steering, with a mild camber or cresting road change. Fortunately, only one fatality on my beat, from this type of crash. She was traveling at a higher speed than normal for traffic, and consequently hit the shoulder farther down the road than usual. She took out a very large, tall light pole with the drivers door, flew over a ditch and impacted a sound wall, and ricocheted off to land in the ditch farther down. The pole killed her. That little Honda had the door pushed in about 2 feet.
Not to say there weren't wet crashes at the same spots, but the dry ones got my attention because they seemed odd.

Ian Argent said...

I *detest* FWD. I grew up driving RWD minipickups (Izuzu p'up and ford ranger). My wife's car before we were married was a buick century and a taurus after we were married. We became a one-car household for a long time until I got my Smart; and I've got nothing but bad things to say about front-wheel drive. At least in RWD you lose either steering or power when one end gets loose. In FWD you lose both when the front end goes. And it's instinctive (at least for me) to recover from the rear-end coming adrift in an RWD - I always had to think a bit when the front end goes in FWD. Also, all the FWD cars I've driven have been automatic, with the consquent inappropriately-timed shifting.

(Smart is rear-engine RWD with option for driver to control the transmission - tiptronic with no clutch pedal)

Michael said...

"Some combination of chopping the gas while steering, with a mild camber or cresting road change. "

Negative. I had a sudden and curiously slow right yaw that didn't correct, but easily held. I *increased* throttle (gear 5, manual) and started drifting out of my (inside of 4) lane, while angles increased and were slowed... then I drifted out as far as (I think) the peak of the camber in the road and it violently snapped left, still in the throttle, still trying to countersteer and I slammed hard into the central divider, which whipped me 180 degrees and I floored it and shot off the highway and over a drop into an empty construction area.

Adrenalin may have it screwed up, but in my mind it was a good 2-3 seconds from first yaw to the snap. I know for a FACT it was at least 100 yards of travel overall.

I'd raced that car and another small FWD in autocrosses though, I knew the handling traits, and the behavior at that point was just f'in WIERD. That was my first and only "damaging" car accident, I'd managed to save or mitigate all the others in all the other cars...

Michael said...

Thinking (again) about it now, with the passenger completely flat and a high front weight bias, and the amount of water out there, I may have been hydroplaning on the pass. front (due to no tread stability) and the driver's rear (due to reduced load)... the one driving wheel would have been pulling the yaw (I agree, torque steer) until suddenly there's traction on the other front and *wham*...

I dunno. I definitely don't have the car anymore and all my videos are of 9/10 dry driving, and I'd never put the car into a reduced traction sliding condition that severe before. The flat may have been the straw that broke the Leganza's back, so to speak, took the dynamics over the edge from controllable to uncontrollable...

I was kicking myself for a while too, playing the what if game... trouble is, everything that I thought of, I'd done. The level of countersteer keeping me from spinning into the yaw was enough that when it caught, I couldn't unwind the wheel fast enough to avoid the "overcorrection" (not real overcorr, from a steady state condition)

Dr. StrangeGun said...

Ahh feck. Was signed in with wrong account.

"Michael" in 2 comments above is Dr. Strangegun.