Humidity is up, temperatures are down (at least a little) and thunderheads appear in the north most afternoons. The monsoon is here, bringing hope for rain and some relief from the Arizona desert heat.
But relief can quickly turn to panic if you’re behind the wheel when a storm suddenly hits. Walls of dust, flash floods and high winds create dangerous conditions for motorists and contribute to an increased chance of accidents. Do you know how to drive in a summer storm? These tips from the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) will help keep your travels safe.
Dust in the wind
The best policy is to avoid driving into or through a dust storm. During monsoon season, pay attention to weather forecasts. Delay your plans if a dust storm is imminent. If you are caught in a dust storm, follow these steps from www.pullasidestayalive.org, to stay safe:
- Check traffic around you (front, back and sides) and begin slowing down.
- Pull off the road if you can. If you are on a surface street, look for a parking lot or other location where you can safely sit out the storm. If you are on the freeway, exit if possible.
- Do not stop in a travel lane or in the emergency lane. You want to be completely off the road before you stop. If you are not able to get out of the traffic flow, drive at a slow speed until you can find a safe place to pull over.
- Turn off all vehicle lights including hazards, once you have stopped, and keep your foot off the brake. Keeping your lights on increases the chance that someone will crash into you. Set your emergency brake for safety.
- Keep your seatbelts buckled and leave children in safety restraints.
- Tune into local weather, if you can, to learn more about conditions in your area. Dust storms are sometimes followed by heavy rains.
- Use caution when resuming your trip after the storm has passed. Visibility may continue to be impaired for several hours after a bad dust storm.
Here comes the rain
Wet roads create hazardous driving conditions in our dry desert climate. Because it rains so seldom in Arizona, our roadways have an extra buildup of oil and debris which becomes slick when wet. And our crusty, dry terrain is often unable to absorb sudden amounts of water, leading to flash floods. As with dust storms, it is best to avoid driving in heavy rain. If you are caught in a downpour, it’s important to know how to drive through it safely.
- Turn on your lights. Daytime running lights are not sufficient; you want your tail lights on, too. However, if visibility very bad, you may want to pull over. If so, follow dust storm guidelines. Get off the roadway completely and turn your lights off.
- Slow down and allow for extra space between vehicles.
- Avoid sudden braking. The roads will be slick and you could lose control of your car.
- Avoid lanes where water is pooling. The center lane is generally safest. Drive in the tracks of the vehicle in front of you to maximize traction.
- Keep your distance from larger vehicles. Their tires throw off large amounts of spray which reduces visibility.
- Be aware of hydroplaning. If your vehicle begins to drift or slide, ease your foot off the gas pedal and gently turn your steering wheel in the direction of the slide. Do not brake suddenly. Do not accelerate until your car has regained traction.
- Do cross or drive into flooded areas. Even if the water doesn’t look deep, you could become stranded. And never drive past “Road Closed” signs. Not only is this dangerous, but you risk being cited under Arizona’s Stupid Motorist Law.
- If traffic lights are out, treat the intersection like a 4-way stop. Proceed slowly and cautiously.
- Stay alert for debris on the roadway, especially if you are in an area prone to falling rocks.
Riders on the storm
It’s always a good idea to keep your vehicle in good working order, but during storm season precautions are even more important.
- Inspect windshield wipers regularly and replace them if they are worn.
- Make sure your phone battery is adequately charged before you leave home.
- Keep an emergency kit in your vehicle, and always travel with extra drinking water in case you get stranded.
- Visit ADOT’s travel information site, az511.gov, or dial 511 (within Arizona) for up-to-date information on highway conditions across Arizona.
Whether you’re driving across town or cross-country, your advisors at General Southwest Insurance wish you safe travels. For additional information on accident preparedness, visit our blog post, Car Insurance Claims, or www.generalsouthwest.com.