Dense fog that covered the Tri-Cities on Friday morning was the first sign from Mother Nature that motorists need to brush up on winter driving safety tips.
Visibility varied around town -- it was less than a mile at the Tri-Cities Airport in Pasco at times -- but not all drivers remembered to turn on their headlights.
Using headlights when it's foggy may not always help improve visibility for the driver, but it helps others see other vehicles on the road, law enforcement officials said.
State law also requires drivers to turn on their headlights when weather conditions reduce visibility to less than 1,000 feet, said Sean Granger, a Pasco police traffic officer.
"Most cars are equipped now with automatic headlights, but they won't turn on automatically" when it's foggy but still light out, he said.
Even people who have vehicles with daytime running lights need to turn on the headlights in foggy situations because the daytime running lights don't illuminate the lights on the back of the car, Granger said.
The two most important -- and basic -- safety tips for drivers to remember in the winter is to slow down and increase the following distances, officials said. It's a message that is repeated constantly each year when roads get slick and vehicles start spinning off the road.
"Make sure you're driving in accordance with weather conditions and road conditions," said Washington State Patrol Lt. Roger Wilbur. "If it's slippery, you need to slow down. If visibility is limited, you need to slow down."
The posted speed limits are set for ideal weather conditions -- normally in June, July and August, not in November, December, January and February, Wilbur said.
"People need to start being aware at any point and time now that they could wake up and have pretty variable road conditions," he said. "It could be anywhere from freezing fog to freezing rain and snow and ice."
If there's a potential for any type of precipitation causing the roads to be wet, drivers should keep an eye out for slick roads because overnight temperatures are dropping well below freezing.
Overpasses and bridges are going to be the first to ice up, so extra caution should be taken when driving over them, Wilbur said. Drivers also should not use cruise control when road conditions are poor, he said.
The Queensgate Boulevard area on Interstate 182 in Richland and even straight stretches of I-182 near Road 68 in Pasco were problem areas where troopers saw multiple spin-offs last winter.
"What we're finding out there (near Road 68) is ... when things get slippery or we have crashes out there, we're seeing a substantial amount of additional crashes as well," Wilbur said.
Wilbur said that's because of the amount of traffic on the highway in that area and drivers not giving themselves enough room to react safely when a collision occurs in front of them.
"In the winter ... you need more time to respond; you can't just jerk the wheel or you'll lose control yourself," he said.
And four-wheel-drive vehicles don't stop any faster than other cars, authorities said.
It takes drivers going 70 mph on a dry road about 387 feet to come to a full stop once they perceive the threat and have time to react, said Officer Granger. When there's snow or ice on the road, the stopping distance increases to 1,087 feet -- or just short of three city blocks.
"It takes over three times as long to stop when you get that snow on the road," Granger said. "... Basically to get the same stopping distance on ice as you would have on dry pavement, you'd have to reduce speeds to less than 40 mph."
Granger also pointed out that when there's freezing fog in the area that turns the highway into a sheet of ice and reduces visibility to less than 1,000 feet, if drivers continue to try to go 70 mph, there won't be enough time to stop once the see the threat.
On city streets, reducing speed from 30 mph to 20 mph when roads are slick will give drivers about the same stopping ability, he said.
Motorists also are reminded to make sure to clear off snow and ice from all windows before hitting the road and to slow down and give extra room to emergency vehicles or other motorists on the side of the road.