There’s no season when we don’t get out on the road in our vehicles. That’s why it’s important to prepare for driving in any kind of weather. Follow along for our complete guide on safe driving in bad weather conditions.
Types of Bad Weather Driving Conditions
You may think icy roads are the only threat when you’re driving, but many weather conditions affect road conditions. Here are some examples:
- Winter snow and slush may look fun to play in but could cause slick roads and ice that make braking hard and spinouts more common.
- Spring rains mean greener plants, but they can also cause slippery roads and floods that can make it hard to stop and gain traction on the road.
- Fall means beautiful colors and falling leaves, but those leaves can cause slicker road conditions. Fog and rain start to roll back in this time of year, making roads slick and wet, and visibility poor.
- Tornadoes, wildfires, and hurricanes are more commonplace during certain seasons and can lead to dangerous driving situations and fallen power lines.
How to Practice Safe Driving in Bad Weather Conditions
The best way to fight poor road conditions is to practice cautious driving on the road. Here are some tips to keep you safer, no matter the road conditions.
- Speed: Follow the speed limits, but don’t be afraid to slow down in hazardous weather conditions.
- Signals: Use your turn signals and hazards to notify other drivers of your plans, it will make it easier for them to stop and anticipate braking.
- Headlights: If the weather conditions are such that you have to use your windshield wipers, you should also make sure your headlights are on. In some states, this is the law. This can improve your visibility as well as make you more visible to other drivers. During snow or foggy conditions, be sure to use your low beams.
- Space: Give other cars space when driving, following too closely is an easy way to end up with a fender bender or worse, especially when weather conditions are poor.
- Extra time: Commutes can take longer in poor weather. Allowing extra time to drive to your destination will help avoid hurried accidents or mishaps.
- Animals: Keep an eye out for critters when you drive, they are prevalent during certain times of the year and could cause accidents. (Read How to Avoid Hitting a Deer (& What to Do If You Hit One) and What to Do if You Hit a Wild Turkey (or Another Smaller Animal) with Your Car.)
How to Prepare Your Car for Driving in Bad Weather Conditions
Storm season comes every year, whether it comes as winter weather, hurricanes, tornadoes, or hail, the best way to prepare is to get your vehicle ready. When a storm is coming, it’s best to make sure your car is prepared with the tools you’ll need. Ensure you have a full tank of gas, and your oil, antifreeze, and other fluids are full. Follow these other preparations to stay ready for whatever the weather throws your way.
- Check your tires: Deflated or worn-down tires won’t help you if you’re caught in wet, icy, or snowy conditions. If worn, get them rotated or replaced for optimal traction, and check the air regularly.
- Lights: Make sure all the lights outside your car are working, that includes headlights, taillights, brake lights, and blinker lights.
- Battery: Check your battery for corrosion or other problems to ensure it’s working correctly. Take it to an auto specialist or learn how to change your own car battery.
- Vents: Are your defroster and heat vents working properly? Make sure your heat and air conditioning including the vents are in working order. You don’t want to get stuck in a storm and freeze or have the view out your windows obstructed by frost or fog.
- Wiper blades: Check out your blades for wear and dirt. Try cleaning them or replace them if they show signs of too much wear and tear.
Keep an Emergency Kit in the Car
It’s a good idea to prepare yourself and your car in case you break down or have another roadside emergency. Keep an emergency kit in the car that will be useful if you get stranded while driving in bad weather conditions. It should include:
- First aid kit
- Flare guns
- Emergency contacts and medical lists
- Kitty litter
- Tool kit
- Spare tire with jack
- Tire sealant
- Reflective hazard triangle
- Auto insurance and roadside assistance information
If you are traveling in cold weather, it is a good idea to supplement your emergency kit with
- Window scraper
- Kitty litter
Dangerous Driving Scenarios & How to Navigate Them
We’ve looked at how to prepare your vehicle ahead of bad weather and ways to stay safe while driving, and while these are certainly essential skills to master, how do you respond to specific events that are outside of your control? What do you do if your car is caught in a tornado? What should you do if a power line falls on your car, or you encounter one while driving through the neighborhood? What about when you’re on a road trip and heavy rain or hail starts to fall? Here are a handful of dangerous situations you could encounter while driving and how to respond to stay safe.
What to Do if You See a Tornado While Driving
When you consider the size and power of a tornado, being trapped inside of a vehicle is one of the most vulnerable places you can be. No matter what the circumstances are, you should always act quickly and decisively, but here’s how to stay safe in a car during a tornado on a situation-by-situation basis, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
What If the Tornado Is Very Visible and Far Away?
If you can clearly see the tornado and determine the direction it’s moving, you might be able to get out of its path by driving at right angles to the storm, according to the NOAA. If you have the time and can do so safely, seek shelter in a sturdy building.
What If the Tornado Is Bearing Down on You?
If you don’t have the time to drive and seek the best possible shelter, park your car where it won’t block the road and assess the landscape. If you can get inside a nearby building, do so. If you see a low-lying area like a ditch or ravine, the NOAA advises you to get out of the car and get below the level of the roadway. If there are already high wind gusts and dangerous flying debris, you should stay in your car as a last resort. Make sure your seatbelt is securely fastened, put your head down and cover it with a jacket, blanket, pillow, or some other type of cushion. Do not take shelter under an overpass; that is actually a highly dangerous place to hide because wind speeds can be even higher there.
Wildfire Evacuation Plan: How to Drive When a Wildfire Is in the Area
Sadly, the West Coast has been dealing with record wildfires in recent years, meaning many families are having to pile in their cars and evacuate. So how do you stay safe if you’re put in this potentially dangerous driving position?
Evacuate Early to Avoid a More Dangerous Trip
One of the biggest mistakes people make is waiting too long to get out. “When you’re told to evacuate – go. Don’t consider whether to stay, don’t evaluate, don’t talk about it with neighbors,” J. Keith Gilless, Dean of the College of Natural Resources at the University of California at Berkeley and wildfire expert, told the Washington Post in an interview. Listen to local evacuation orders and guidelines because large fires can spread rapidly, blocking highways that were previously passable. Also, the longer you wait, the more likely you are to have poor visibility due to smoke and haze. You could also get caught in traffic with other people trying to make a last-minute evacuation. The earlier you can leave, the better, according to FEMA.
Driving Through a Wildfire Area: Evacuating Safely
Before you leave home, plot a backup route or two just in case your primary route gets blocked off by the blaze says Cal Fire. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire is the old expression, and if you start to see heavy smoke while you’re trying to drive away, turn around and head the other way. Before you leave home, many emergency authorities recommend grabbing a wool jacket or blanket in case you need to cover yourself at some point. This fabric isn’t as flammable as many others. While you’re evacuating, it’s also a good idea to close all of your windows and AC vents to try to keep your car as smoke-free as possible. If you have the AC on, make sure to set it to recirculate so it isn’t pulling air from outside.
What to Do If You’re About to Get Trapped in Your Vehicle
As we mentioned above, wildfires are unpredictable, and you should always evacuate early. However, it’s necessary to be prepared for every situation, so if you’re caught in your car and can’t see how to escape the flames, here’s what to do, according to Cal Fire:
- Don’t panic
- Look around for an area without vegetation, like a parking lot or large clearing, and park your car there
- Make sure your windows and vents are still closed
- Lie on the floor of your vehicle and cover yourself with your wool blanket or jacket
- Call 911 and let them know where you are
- Wait for help to arrive
How to Stay Safe on the Road in Heavy Rain, Flooding, or Hail
Pretty much all of us will be forced to drive in heavy rain or hail at some point, but do you know what to do in these scenarios to stay safe and keep your car protected?
Driving in the Rain: Do’s and Don’ts
Much of the advice for driving in heavy rain is pretty similar to driving during a normal rain shower. If you can travel in better weather, that’s probably the safest bet. But if you have to drive through the rain or it shows up unexpectedly, you should turn your headlights on to increase visibility. After making sure you’re more visible to other cars it’s time to slow down and leave extra distance between you and the car in front of you. You want to avoid hydroplaning or having to brake suddenly in poor conditions. No matter what, don’t put your hazard lights on because that’s actually illegal in some states and confuses drivers who might assume you’re stopped.
The difference between driving in regular rain and heavy downpours? With high amounts of rainfall, you might feel like you can’t see the road or other cars well enough. If you can’t see or feel unsafe, pull off the road and wait for the storm to pass.
How to Drive Through Water
Heavy rain can also lead to dangerous flooding. “Each year, more deaths occur due to flooding than from any other thunderstorm-related hazard,” according to the National Weather Service. Many of these deaths are the result of people underestimating the amount and force of water only to have their car swept away. If you encounter floodwaters, remember the old saying: Turn Around Don’t Drown® and find a new route.
If you absolutely have to drive through a little bit of water, I Drive Safely recommends only taking on extremely shallow sections by driving slowly and keeping toward the center of the road among other suggestions.
How to Protect Your Car from Hail
Hail, much like rain, can make visibility while driving much worse, and it can make the road slick. But unlike rain, hail can do serious damage to your car, even if it’s not substantial in size. After all, any ball of ice that falls at a speed between 44 and 72 miles per hour (the National Severe Storms Laboratory best estimate) can leave dents or crack glass. If you find yourself caught in a hailstorm, attempt to find cover, perhaps a gas station or rest area with a metal canopy, as soon as possible. You can also consider buying a portable hail cover to protect your car when shelter isn’t available.
Winter Driving on Snow, Slush, and Ice
Snow, slush, and ice all have an impact on driving and special care should be taken when navigating your car during the winter. First and foremost, slow down when driving in these conditions. It takes a longer distance to stop on slick roads, so you should reduce your speed to 10 miles per hour below the posted speed limit to give yourself more time to brake if needed. If the weather is hazardous, it’s safer to not drive at all until conditions clear. It is best to be prepared ahead of driving in bad winter weather conditions, so if anything occurs, you’re prepared. So, before you go out on the snow, slush, or ice-covered roads, read these articles from Direct:
- Driving on Icy Roads: How to Steer Out of a Skid in 5 Steps
- 6 Ways to Stay Safe on the Road This Winter.
- Tips to Survive in Your Car During a Winter Storm
What to Do If You’re Driving in a Hurricane
While the track of a hurricane can change, you should typically have advanced warning that you’re in the storm’s path or close enough to the path to make all the proper preparations. This also should mean you’re not actually driving in a hurricane but driving away from one before it arrives.
If you know a hurricane is coming, be proactive and plan ahead, the CDC says. Fill up your evacuation vehicle’s gas tank early, fill up containers and water bottles with clean water, and get your emergency kit ready. Board up your windows and doors. Move large items that could damage your home (grills, bikes, etc.) into a sheltered area. After you take all the precautions, check the news for evacuation orders or stay-at-home orders.
If You’re Evacuating Due to a Hurricane…
When you hear an evacuation order, do not delay. That is the time to get out. As we mentioned above, hurricanes generally come with some sort of warning, meaning if you heed evacuation orders promptly, you might be able to avoid driving through the most treacherous conditions. So, what should you do if a hurricane is approaching while driving to evacuate?
- Be prepared for traffic. There will be a lot of people leaving town, but you should stick to recommended evacuation routes, according to the CDC. Other routes could become blocked off or flooded as the storm moves in.
- Watch out for water and wind gusts. When such a powerful storm is headed in your direction, there’s a chance you’ll encounter strong wind gusts or rain, even if the storm hasn’t made landfall yet. Powerful wind gusts can cause larger vehicles to flip and small cars to be pushed around. Drive defensively just in case, and if you encounter any roads that are beginning to flood, turn to an alternate route!
If a Stay-at-Home Order Is Issued…
Do not drive if state or local authorities tell you to stay home! There’s a reason they’re telling you to stay put, and it’s to keep you safe. You’ll likely be safer sheltering in place in these circumstances than you will be in a vehicle trying to navigate hurricane-force winds and floodwaters.
A Weather-Related Hazard: Fallen Power Lines
An ice storm, wind gusts, a tornado, or even a car crash can all take down a power line, and when a power line touches the ground, a large area of danger forms. So, what should you do if you encounter a fallen line while driving? Well, it depends on a few factors. But no matter what, you should always assume that any downed power line you see is energized and capable of causing harm.
What Should You Do If You Notice a Fallen Power Line?
If you see a downed power line in your path, do not approach it. While you might assume the rubber of your tires will protect you, it’s best to not take any chances according to the Snohomish County Public Utility District. The line could get tangled under your car, causing all sorts of issues. Keep your distance and call emergency services (911) and the city’s electrical company. If you were headed somewhere specific, find another route.
What to Do If a Power Line Falls on Your Car
If you’re in your vehicle and come directly into contact with a fallen power line (e.g., if you crash into a pole), the best thing you can do is stay put because exiting the vehicle could put you at risk of electrocution. Collect yourself, call 911, and inform them of the situation you’re in. The 911 operator can get the energy company to work on shutting off power to the downed line. While you wait, be on the lookout for bystanders. If you were involved in a crash, people might want to check on you, but approaching your vehicle would put them at risk. Roll down the windows and tell people to stay away if necessary.
Sometimes fallen power lines can spark a fire, forcing you to exit your vehicle. If you absolutely must get out of your car, there are some important guidelines to follow to try to remain safe, according to DTE Energy.
- After removing any loose clothing, open your car door, step onto the door frame in a squatted position with your feet together and your arms tucked in tightly to your body.
- Jump out of the car with your feet together, making sure you land with them together at the same time. Make sure you’re jumping away from the wire. Attempt to get good clearance from the vehicle, but don’t risk falling on the ground. Keeping your feet together is the most important thing and can help prevent you from being electrocuted.
- Shuffle to safety. By keeping your feet together and on the ground, you’re working to keep your body from turning into an electrical circuit. Get as far away from the vehicle and wire as possible.
Does Insurance Cover “Acts of God” Like These?
We hope you avoid any damage to your vehicle if you’re ever in one of these situations, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas. So, who pays for repairs when a so-called “Act of God” causes damages? Is it you or your insurer? Well, it depends on the type of coverage you have. Typically speaking, comprehensive coverage (sometimes called “other than collision coverage”) is the only type of insurance that will help pay for repairs in these circumstances. If you only have liability coverage (bodily injury liability and property damage liability), you would be stuck paying for the repairs all by yourself.
However, every situation might not be covered in your policy. Every policy is different, so it’s important to have a conversation with your agent to make sure you’ve got the coverage you need. For example, if you live in Florida, you might want to have a specific conversation to see if you’ll be covered should your vehicle be damaged from flooding or flying debris in a hurricane. But if you’re a West Coast resident, you might be more concerned about getting covered in case of a wildfire.