Learning how to drive in dangerous weather is an important skill for drivers to master. While it is always preferable to avoid driving in dangerous conditions, this is not always possible. For example, imagine you are far from home and get stuck in a massive thunderstorm. Understanding how to navigate this weather safely will keep not just you safe, but the other people who need to use the road.
A thunderstorm combines many of the dangers of other inclement weather, which is why it can prove especially stressful. You will need to deal with the low visibility and traction caused by rain, the force of wind pushing your vehicle and causing debris to fly, and even hail, not to mention the crashes of electricity.
Below are some key tips to keep in mind to stay safe while driving in a thunderstorm.
1. Stop driving, if possible.
The safest way to survive a thunderstorm is to wait it out off the road. If you are able to get off the road and wait, the typical storm lasts only about 30 minutes. Check the weather before you leave and plan to stick around if it seems like a storm is coming.
Should you already be on the road, pull off to a safe spot and use your emergency brakes. If you are still on or near the road, be sure to use your hazard lights so other drives can see you clearly even through the limited visibility.
2. Avoid bridges altogether.
If you are in a thunderstorm, you should avoid driving over bridges. These structures have a high chance of collapse during a thunderstorm so it is best to wait for the rain to pass before you cross. Look for an alternate route that does not involve a bridge, if possible. When you absolutely must cross, do so with great caution.
3. Keep your lights illuminated.
Staying safe in a storm means maximizing visibility. Keeping your headlights turned on will help other drivers see you and additionally illuminate the driving path. Keep in mind that high beams are not the best if there is any sort of fog around and be courteous to oncoming traffic that may find the intensity of this light overwhelming.
Also, be sure to read up on hazard light laws. In some states, it is illegal to drive when hazard lights on because the blinking can be a distraction for other drivers and make it more difficult to discern brake lights and turn signals.
4. Maintain a sealed vehicle.
While you are probably unlikely to open the doors or roll down the windows in the middle of a storm, you should appreciate that there is a reason not to do so beyond getting wet. If there is lightning in your area, keeping your car sealed will help protect you from any electrical danger.
Also, a sealed vehicle will help protect you from the startling noise of thunder, which can distract you while you are driving. Keep your wiper blades running if you are driving to maintain visibility. Hopefully, you have a high-quality blade like those made by Trico to keep the windshield clear.
5. Drive cautiously.
During storms, it is especially important to drive cautiously. Keep in mind that speed limits are meant for normal driving conditions. During a thunderstorm, you should be driving much slower than that and maintaining a lot of distance between you and any other drivers on the road.
Distance is especially important since you will not have as much traction, which means stopping will be much more difficult. Also, keep an eye out for large puddles and try to avoid them if you can do so safely. Hitting these puddles could cause you to hydroplane and lose control.
6. Park safely.
When you decide to stop during a thunderstorm, you need to be strategic about where you do so. Because of limited visibility, you should avoid road shoulders unless there is a lot of room.
Your best bet is to find a parking lot without nearby trees or power lines. Keep in mind that both wind and lightning can down these tall structures and bring them crashing on top of you. Furthermore, it is best to avoid the bottom of hills or slopes since flooding can occur there.
7. Be careful of hail.
Thunderstorms often come with hail, which can be damaging to your vehicle and also very dangerous. If the hail is large, look for a covered place than can provide some protection.
If you are parked in your car, you should get into the back seat area and lay across the floor. Large pieces of hail can cause the glass in your vehicle to shatter and this is the most protected place for you.
Whenever possible, avoid driving in hail since adding speed to the equation makes it more likely that the glass will shatter. In addition, hail can further reduce friction on roads, so keep that in mind.