Driving In Emergencies and Disasters

Disaster driving!  In times of emergency, people often react incorrectly, either staying with or abandoning their cars at the wrong time.  This mistake, can be fatal.

After almost every disaster, search and rescue teams find victims who might have survived if they had known whether to stay with or leave their cars during these times of emergency.

The following are safety tips for drivers in various types of emergencies.  This information should be kept in the glove compartment of your car.  In any situation, the most important rule is to:   “Remain Calm.  Don't Panic!”


Stay in your car!  Bring the car to a halt as soon as safely possible, then remain in the car until the shaking has stopped.   The car's suspension system will make the car shake violently during the quake, but it is still a safe place to be.  Avoid stopping near or under buildings, overpasses and utility wires.  When the quaking has stopped, proceed cautiously, avoiding bridges and other elevated structures which might have been damaged by the quake and could be damaged further by aftershocks.


Evacuate early!  Flooding can begin well before a hurricane nears land.  Plan to evacuate early, and keep a full tank of gas during the hurricane season.  Learn the best evacuation route before s storm forms, and make arrangements with friends or relatives inland to stay with them until the storm has passed. 

 Never attempt to drive during a hurricane or until the all clear is given after the storm.  Flash flooding can occur after a hurricane has passed.  Never attempt to drive on flooded roads or in flooded areas.   Avoid driving on coastal and low-lying roads.  Storm surge and hurricane caused flooding are erratic and may occur with little or no warning.


Get out of the car!  Never attempt to drive through water on a road.  Water can be deeper than it appears, and water levels can rise very quickly.  Cars can float dangerously for at least a short distance.  A car can also be buoyed by floodwaters and then swept downstream during a flood.  Floodwaters can erode roadways, and a missing section of road or even a missing bridge may not be visible with water running over the area. 

If a car stalls in floodwater, get out quickly and move to higher ground.  The floodwaters may continue to rise and the car can be swept away at any moment!  Remember that it only takes about two feet of moving water and your car can be buoyed and carried away.


Get out of the car!  A car is the least safe place to be during a tornado.  When a warning is issued, do not try to leave the area by car.  If you are in a car, leave it and find shelter in a building.  If a tornado approaches and there are no safe structures nearby, lie flat in a ditch or other ground depression with your arms over your head.  A tornado such as the one in the background of this web page is strong enough to lift your car and carry it away.   Also, do not seek shelter under an overpass.  Contrary to popular belief, this is one of the most dangerous areas to be!


Stay in the car!  Avoid driving in severe winter storms if possible.  If you are caught in a storm and your car becomes immobilized, stay in the vehicle and await rescue.  Never attempt to walk from the car unless you can see a definite safe haven at a reasonable distance.  Disorientation during blizzard conditions comes rapidly and being lost in the snow is exceedingly dangerous.  Turn on the auto engine for brief periods to provide heat, but always leave a down-wind window open slightly to avoid deadly carbon monoxide poisoning. 

Make sure the exhaust pipe is clear of snow.  Exercise occasionally be moving your hands, arms, feet and legs.  Do not remain in one position for long.  Avoid overexertion and exposure from any shoveling or pushing of the car.  Leave the dome light on at night as a signal for rescuers.  If more than one person is in the car, sleep only in shifts.

Summer Heat

Stay out of a parked car (this includes your animals)!  During hot weather, heat build-up in a closed or nearly closed car can occur quickly and intensely to temperatures over 120 degrees.   Children and pets can die from heat stroke in a matter of minutes when left in a closed car.  Never leave anyone in a parked car during periods of high summer heat.

Developing Emergencies and Disasters

In times of developing emergencies such as severe weather (hurricane, blizzard), major toxic spills, incidents involving explosions  and other major disasters, keep a radio or television on and wait for instructions.  If evacuation is recommended, move quickly but calmly, following instructions as to the evacuation route to be used, evacuation shelter to be sought and any other directions. 

Emergency Supplies

Keep them in your car!   Cars should be equipped with supplies which could be useful in any emergency.   Depending on location, climate of the area, personal requirements and other variables, the supplies in the kit might include (but are not limited to) the following items:

  • First aid kit

  • Blanket or sleeping bag

  • A 3 day supply of your own personal medication

  • Bottled water

  • Tools and booster cables

  • Flashlight and extra batteries

  • Traction mat or chains

  • Shovel

  • Rain gear and change of clothes

  • Candles and matches

  • Some small canned items (preferably with a pop top)

Defensive Driving

Foul weather, rain, snow, ice and fog account for about 15% of all vehicle crashes.

Rain Problems and Tips:

  • Rain mixes with oil, dust and dirt to form slippery road surfaces, especially at the beginning of the rain event, until the rain washes away the slippery material.

  • Rain reduces vision, especially at night.

  • Rain causes glare from the roadway.

  • Rain causes hydroplaning.  If this occurs take your foot off of the accelerator and do not make any sudden steering or braking maneuvers until the vehicle tires make contact with the roadway.

  • Increase following distances.  Use the four or six second rule, depending on the driving conditions.  The rule for judging following distances on a road with no adverse driving conditions is called the “Two Second Rule”.  To determine the proper distance between vehicles, wait until the rear of the vehicle in front passes a fixed object and begin to count, one-one thousand, two-one thousand.  If the front of the second vehicle does not reach the fixed point before two-one thousand, then there is sufficient space between the vehicles.  In foul weather, increase to four or six seconds or more accordingly.

Snow and Ice Problems and Tips:

  • Snow and ice decrease visibility.

  • Snow and ice cause a very low coefficient of friction leaving it very easy to skid.

  • Increase following distance and anticipate stopping.

  • Clean snow/ice from all windows and lights before driving.

  • Watch for ice or frozen spots on the road.

  • If the vehicle is equipped with anti-lock brakes, depress the brakes and wait for the vehicle to stop.  Do not pump the brakes.  Anti-lock brakes also allow the vehicle to be steered during heavy breaking.

  • If the vehicle is not equipped with anti-lock brakes, pump or modulate the brakes if needed when the vehicle begins to skid.

  • Drive on rough snow for better traction for accelerating and braking surfaces.

  • Take advantage of clear spots in the roadway for heavy braking.

  • Beware of black ice.  An area that appears clear may not be.

  • Remember that at dusk, any water on the roadway will begin to freeze.

  • If the vehicle begins to skid, take your foot off of the brake and/or accelerator, quickly look and steer in the direction that you want the vehicle to go.

Driver Attitudes Problems and Tips:

  • Road rage or aggressive driving is a problem in most congested areas.  Do not make driving a contest between you and another driver.  Other drivers make mistakes occasionally, just as you do.  Do not let your emotions drive your vehicle, you are the one in control.

  • Pre-plan and anticipate the actions of others.

  • Develop good and safe driving habits.

  • The goal of defensive driving is to arrive at your destination safely.

  • Aggressiveness:  An emotional display of energy that generally impairs judgment.  Aggressive behavior often manifests itself in high risk, low gain driving maneuvers that greatly enhance the potential for mistakes or crashes.  Characteristics of aggressiveness include over-confidence, self-righteousness and impatience.

  • Emotions:  Common emotions that manifest themselves in driving are: stress, anger and depression.

  • Patients:  Is the ability to look at a situation logically.  Patience promotes a low risk, high gain attitude while driving.

  • Fatigue:  Fatigued drivers often become irritable and discourteous, causing them to overreact to minor irritations.  More importantly, fatigue effects visual efficiency and tends to lengthen perception, decision and reaction time.

Night Driving Problems and Tips:

  • Slow down at night.  Most drivers have a false sense of security believing that they can drive as fast at night as they can during daylight.

  • Do not overdrive the vehicle headlights.  This means only drive as fast as the vehicle can be stopped within the headlight illumination distance.

  • Keep the windshield, headlights, rear lights and marker lights clean.

  • Use the vehicle high beams when able to do so.

  • Avoid looking directly into oncoming headlights. 

  • More than one half of all traffic deaths occur at night, despite the fact that fewer miles are driven.

  • The average glare recovery time (the time it takes your eyes to recover after being blinded by oncoming headlights) is 5 to 7 seconds.  With a glare recovery time of 5 seconds, a driver traveling at 50 MPH (73.3 feet per second), will travel approximately 365 feet in total blindness.

  • Remember that tinted glass cuts visibility.

  • Driving circumstances begin to change at dusk and dawn.

  • Headlights do not shine around curves, therefore you will be turning into darkness.

  • Night driving takes more concentration than daylight driving, drivers should be well rested before driving at night.

Never carry gasoline in containers other than the car's gas tank!

Remember, stay calm and be prepared!

Always try to listen to radio or television for the latest National Weather Service bulletins on severe weather for the area in which you live and will be driving.


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