Fall foliage is beautiful. It alone makes the season a favorite of many people. But those leaves have a dark side when it comes to driving and safety, which is something that very few people consider unless, and until, it directly impacts them. We, at Moon Township Automotive, do not want to see anyone getting hurt on the road. That is why we put this piece (and many other safety-oriented pieces) together.
The phenomena of fall leaves is one that many people view with wonderment and awe. Science has an explanation, but most people do know know it. We find it fascinating. As noted by The University of Vermont:
Why leaves change colors in the fall, with some years more brilliant and long-lasting than others, is based on some simple science and environmental cues. Fall leaf colors are due to plant pigments in leaves. The colored pigments are the same that produce colors in flowers and fruits… “Carotenoids” are leaf pigments responsible for yellow and orange colors in leaves, particularly in fall… One type of these carotenoids is “xanthophyll”coming from the Greek “xantho” for yellow. Carotenoids are responsible for absorbing wavelengths of light that chlorophyll doesn’t—mainly blue-green and green, as well as using excess energy produced in leaves as in high light conditions. In fall, with no chlorophyll around, they may act as a sunscreen…
“Anthocyanins” are the pigments responsible for red and purple fall leaf colors. These are only produced in the fall when sugars are trapped in the leaves. They function similar to the carotenoids, and help the leaf use up any remaining energy as chlorophyll disappears. Abundant dry weather and sunlight lead to more sugars in leaves, which in turn leads to brighter fall reds… Freezing stops the process of making the red pigments.
Why sugars are trapped in fall leaves, and why chlorophyll disappears in them, is due to something called the “abscission layer”. This is a separation layer of cork-like cells that develops between branches and leaf stems in response to shorter days (in reality it’s the longer nights) and cooler temperatures. It seals off the flow of nutrients between leaf and stems, and eventually roots, which causes the chlorophyll to not be replaced. So it disappears during early to mid fall, leaving the yellow and orange pigments to be seen, and red pigments to be produced.
With time, even these colored pigments break down, leaving brown ones called “tannins”…
Similar environmental cues as those causing red color in leaves also may cause fall colors to come sooner, or later, or to last longer some years than others. Drought during spring and early summer may signal the plant to form the sealing barriers to leaves earlier, shutting down and turning color sooner than usual. So while moisture is good earlier in the season, too much later in the season means more clouds, less sun, and more muted colors. Too much rain in fall, and strong winds, may cause many leaves to fall prematurely.
Those leaves falling, whether prematurely or not, can cause some unexpected dangerous driving conditions.
Why Fall Leaves Are Dangerous To Drivers
Leaves falling to the ground comes with several downsides, as Esurance points out to its customers. These include road hazards like slippery road surfaces and lines and signs being obstructed that are supposed to be there to guide drivers. They also include distracted leaf peepers:
Fall foliage is certainly beautiful, but as the leaves begin to fall, they litter the roads, making streets slick while obscuring traffic lines and other pavement markings. They also hide potholes and other road hazards. And when it rains, it can make those wet leaves on the roadway as dangerous as ice.
And where there are turning leaves, there are leaf peepers. These leaf-peeping drivers tend to crawl along the roads and make unpredictable stops to admire the changing foliage. If you’re driving behind a car with out-of-state plates, give them a little extra space just in case they stop short for a photo.
DistractedDriverAccidents.com includes leaves in the Autumn as one of the top reasons that there are collisions as well, pointing out that in addition to signage and lines, leaves can obstruct potholes.
Along with the slick and obstructed views, the shorter days with less light in the evenings impact driver vision. So, while the leaves are lovely to look at and can be a lot of fun, the fall is a time to pay closer attention to all things safety. Make sure that your car’s headlights are in working order so that you can see. And make sure that your tires are up to the job.
Fall Is Here – Use Fall Tires
Leaves on the road tend to accumulate, and in the event of a storm, they can come down and put a heavy coating on the road. Wet, accumulated leaves on the road make for driving conditions that we, in the automotive field, refer to frequently as unstable, or ‘as slippery as ice.’ If your car hits these leaves it can cause an accident.
The best way to reduce your chances of an accident are to make sure that your tires have the best possible traction they can. All season radial tires will work for people who live in most of the country, but those who live in places that get a lot of fall and winter snow and ice will want to make sure that they have something with even more specifically designed tread in place. As Popular Mechanics points out, “In a contest between all-season and winter tires driven on snow and ice, the latter won the day. Although the year-round rubber performed admirably, it’s clear in all situations that with either FWD or AWD there’s a substantial advantage to having proper rubber under you. The results were especially striking during braking and cornering, when snow tires improved performance by up to 5 percent and 20 percent, respectively.” For most of us though, the all-season tires will suffice to protect from the slippery conditions caused by leaves.
If you drive year round on all-season radials then the fall is a crucial time to have the tread on your tires checked. Any shop can do this for you, including ours. Tire tread in the fall and winter is definitely a situation where you are better to be safe than sorry.