Unexpected weather can catch you off guard when you're on the road. Even if you're an excellent driver, heavy downpours, hail, and lightning can create dangerous and frightening conditions.
Here's how to stay safe when faced with rapidly changing weather conditions on the road. Get Off the Road When Visibility is Bad
Stay in the Car During Thunder and Lightning
- If you drive into a downpour of rain or hail, you're likely to lose visibility. If this is the case, pull completely off the road to a safe spot. If you can quickly and safely drive to a nearby covered area, such as a highway overpass or gas station, go there.
- Don't park under any trees or other tall objects, like telephone poles, because they can be toppled by high winds.
- Once you've parked, turn off your car's engine and turn on the emergency hazard lights. Engage the parking brake and make sure that all other lights are off. This keeps other drivers from confusing your tail lights and brake lights for those of other moving vehicles.
- If it's hailing, turn away from car windows and cover your eyes, ideally with a blanket, jacket, or other clothing to protect yourself from shattering glass. If you can, lie face down on the floor of the car with young children underneath you. Otherwise, lie face down on the seat, and turn your back to the windows.
Don't Drive Into a Flash Flood
- If you pull off the road during a lightning storm, stay in your car unless you can very quickly get inside a structure. It's much safer to be in your metal-topped car than to go outside. If lightning hits your car, the electrical current will travel through the metal cage of your vehicle and into the ground.
- However, lightning can still move through your car's electrical system and any metal pieces, so don't touch any metal parts or the radio, or use a cell phone or any device connected to the car. Keep your hands in your lap until the lightning storm is over.
Flash floods happen quickly, but their damage is long-lasting. If you know your area is under a flash flood warning, the best thing to do is get off the road immediately and stay inside until you know it's OK to be outside again.
However, if you can't get inside right away and the road ahead is covered in standing water, turn around. Do not try to drive through the water even if it looks like you can. Just one to two feet of water can float most cars - even SUVs and large trucks.
If you do become trapped in a car that's overrun by flood or fast-moving waters, don't panic. The car will likely stall and move with the waters, so you need to get out fast so you don't get swept away or sink with the car. Follow these steps as calmly as you can to get out safely:
- First, unbuckle your seatbelt and instruct any children in the car to do the same.
- Roll a window down.
- If you can't engage the windows, use an emergency escape tool, umbrella or any sharp object to break the glass.
- Swim out and get to safety as quickly as possible.
An easily-accessible car emergency kit
can make all the difference during a serious storm. Make sure yours is in your car at all times.
In any of these scenarios, it's best to play it safe and wait out the threat. Once conditions improve, it's fine to re-start your vehicle or call 911 for help.