Safety Tips for Driving in a Hurricane

I was awakened at 5:47 on the morning that Sandy slammed into the Northeast, not by the storm, but by a call from a local television station. Would I be willing to talk about precautions that drivers should take if they have to go out in the storm, the producer asked? I told her I would, to which I was told to hold on for 10 minutes.

Ten minutes grew to an hour, at which point I was disconnected. With all the higher priority news breaking that morning they never got back to me, which was undoubtedly good news judgment.

 Here is what I would have said after suggesting that listeners – and now readers – stay home if at all possible.

·Slow down. The combination of standing water and limited visibility caused by the rain and spray from other vehicles means that traveling at lower speeds is necessary.

·Forget about the traditional three-second following rule. In bad weather you want at least five to six seconds of space between you and the car ahead.

·Use your low beams during the day. Do this even if your car has daytime running lights. By turning on your headlamps, you will not only make your car more visible at the front, you will also turn on the taillights, making you more visible from the rear. If the rain is heavy, consider activating your rear fog lights, if your car has this feature.

·Don’t drive through standing water if you’re unsure how deep it is. It could be deep enough to get you into trouble. Or, the water might be hiding debris or potholes that could damage your car.

·If you do drive through deep water, check your brakes immediately after you get back to solid pavement. The water may reduce your car’s braking ability to zero. Applying the brakes as you drive will speed the drying process and help restore your braking function.

·Be on guard for hydroplaning. This occurs when speed, water depth and tire condition combine to lift your tires off the pavement as you drive. At this point, you’re riding on a thin film of water and have lost the ability to control your car. The solution is to slow down.  Slowly lift your foot off the accelerator pedal and try not to make any dramatic steering inputs until the tires are back in solid contact with the pavement.

·Don’t drive though moving water. A surprisingly small amount of rushing water can move your car off course. How much depends on the car, the surface and the speed of the water. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration notes that a foot of water is enough to float many vehicles, at least initially.

·Be prepared for wind buffeting as you drive. Remember that the wind can change direction violently. That sudden push to the right can be followed immediately by a shove to the left.

·Make sure the air conditioner comes on when you activate the defroster in order to defog windows quickly. In many cars, this happens automatically. In other cars, you will have to push the A/C button to dehumidify the air before it enters the heater. Hot dry air defogs much better than hot moist air.

·Avoid downed wires.

·Avoid choosing routes with tree-lined streets if you can. As beautiful as they are on a lovely day, large branches over the road can turn deadly if they break off during bad weather and fall on a passing car.

·If your wipers can’t keep up, find a safe spot to park off the road.

·Finally, when you arrive at your destination, don’t park under a tree.

Hopefully, you’ll never need this advice, but good luck if you do.