There was a point, somewhere around the middle of July, where I believed the summer would never end. Drenched in sticky perspiration, as if slathered upon my skin with a collection of wet bristles, I stood crying at the sun. The bright and blazing giant stood above, spiking rays down upon the scorched earth around me. It would never end. Never would I be tasked with writing fall driving tips. The fall would never come.
Drama aside, autumn has finally reared its tempered head. The sun has finally retreated back a few degrees and the temperature has finally sunk below ‘ouch’. But, with the beautiful yellow leaves up in the Colorado mountains comes a plethora of new driving dangers. From different weather patterns to new roadside obstacles, there are a few things to look out for during the fall months.
Whether you are new to the Colorado area or a veteran Denverite, there are a few fall driving tips you should be reminded of each year. Let’s get into them.
1. Leaves Are Not Always Fun
The nature-based aspect most synonymous with autumn is that of falling leaves. In fact, that’s exactly why the season has been titled fall, after all. The use of the word fall dates all the way back to the 1500s and was thought to originate from the phrase the fall of the leaf.
Ultimately, after the photosynthesis process in the summer and spring, trees are left without excess water. Therefore, they shed their leaves to conserve water during the cold months.
I am not an arborist, but that’s what I’ve read.
Regardless of the science, beautiful leaves splayed across the ground can be a pleasure to look at, but they can provide various hazards for your vehicle.
Firstly, wet leaves can be slippery. A collection of wet leaves can actually be just as slippery as ice. Enough leaves can act as a blanket above the road, reducing traction to a minimum. If you are traveling on a road with a splattering of wet leaves, treat them very carefully. Allow yourself enough room between other cars (much more than usual) and don’t speed. Stopping suddenly could cause traction issues.
Secondly, leaves can cover and hide various dangers. A pile of leaves could be hiding broken glass, a significant pothole, or other objects. Be very, very cautious when driving through a pile of crunchy plant matter. Avoid large piles, if possible.
Finally, keep an eye out for leaf watchers on mountain roads. Tourists may stop on winding roads to look at the magnificent views, causing both traffic violations and hazards to other drivers. Be careful on less-visible roads, especially if there are beautiful sights in view.
2. Fog and Frost Are Never Fun
While autumn brings about pleasant mountain views with falling leaves, it also brings about less savory things. The increasing cool weather (especially in the morning) can cause a decent amount of both fog and frost on your morning commute.
Let’s start with frost.
While never as bad as the frost in the winter, fall frost can call for driving tips. Firstly, make sure to give yourself ample time to warm up your car in the morning in order to defrost the windshield. Driving with a glaze of ice can create hazardous vision issues, especially if doubled with mountain fog.
Secondly, keep an eye out for those signs stating “bridge freezes before road”. Though not freezing cold, brisk mornings can still cause a bit of slipperiness, especially after rain.
As an auto glass company, we’d be crazy not to mention windshield issues caused by frost!
Autumn usually means a dramatic fluctuation in temperatures. Colorado mornings can be close to freezing, with afternoons spiking up to shorts weather. This is one of the reasons people love the area (wearing layers is fun).
While these fluctuations won’t damage your auto glass outright, they can exasperate issues. If you have any existing damage on your windshield (i.e. cracks or chips), the change between cold and warm can cause the windshield to expand, spreading the damage.
If you notice any damage, get it fixed immediately before the problems get worse. The smaller the damage, the cheaper the repair.
While Denver isn’t known for its foggy mornings (having an average of 56 foggy days a year, one of the lowest cities in the country), fog can still happen, especially in the dipping elevation of the mountains.
Ultimately, prepare for the possibility of decreased visibility during foggy days. Drive with caution. Fog lights can certainly help, creating a wide stretch of dim light to increase vision, but should always be used in conjunction with your normal headlights.
Do not use your high beams during foggy days. In theory, more light to cut through the dense fog makes sense, but it doesn’t work in practice. The brighter light just bounces off the fog, making vision more obscured. Yay!
3. Animals Share the Road
Humans aren’t the only species excited to see the weather cool off and the leaves change colors. Animals are out in droves during the fall season. In fact, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety states that you are 3.5 times as likely to hit an animal, especially a deer, in November.
Here’s another statistic for you: in 2018, 1 in every 186 insurance claims filed in Colorado was due to hitting a deer. While not the most populated state, it’s still a significant percentage.
In regard to deer, the fall is their mating season. Therefore, there is a plethora out and about (especially in nature-filled areas). Keep an eye out for packs and remember that they are more active at dawn and dusk. If you have limited vision due to mountain darkness or fog, drive slower than usual at these times.
Furthermore, other wildlife is in mating season or is preparing for hibernation. Be wary during dusk and dawn. You never know what you might find out on the road.
4. Keep Your Tires Ready
The last of our fall driving tips involves the act of preparation. To prepare for the upcoming months of frost, rain, and wet leaves, make sure that your tires are prepared for the onslaught.
At the end of the day, tires with intact tread will help you slow down and control on those leafy, wet roads. But there becomes a bit of a paradox here. It’s not yet cold enough to switch to winter tires, but your summer tires are probably worn down past optimal tread. You get caught in the middle. Should you switch to your winter tires early or roll with worn summer tires? Should you buy another set of tires just for the fall?
Ultimately, it’s up to your discretion. If your summer or all-year tires have a decent amount of tread, you should be fine to make it until it’s time for the winter tires. A rule of thumb is to wait until the average daily temperature is below 46 °F to switch to winter tires. For Denver, that won’t be long coming.
If your tires are bare, something must be done, regardless of the weather. That’s just basic driving tips.
Also, expect your tires to drop 1 pound per square inch (PSI) of pressure each month, regardless of weather. When the temperature begins to drop, your PSI may drop around 1 PSI per 10 degrees. Therefore, the drastically shifting weather may cause your tires to drain faster than normal.
Keep a good pressure checker handy. Look at your car’s owner manual to determine where the air pressure should be (or Google it), and make sure you maintain that. Check once a month, at least.
Low tire pressure can cause decreased control and safety while driving.