People often underestimate the power of a storm. Thunderstorms are common in most areas of the United States, so when a particularly powerful one comes through, it seems like business as usual. However, there are multiple hazards of storms that can increase your likelihood of being involved in a car accident.
How to Drive Safer During a Bad Thunderstorm
Strong winds can make it hard to steer and control your vehicle, heavy rain can make it hard to see, lightning can hit your vehicle or suddenly damage your surroundings, and the wet roads can cause you to lose traction.
Fortunately, there are some strategies that can help you drive more safely in these dangerous circumstances.
Your best option is to avoid driving altogether. There may be situations where you’re forced to leave. For example, you may be required to drive into work, or you may need something important from the store, but for most people most of the time, driving can be delayed or forgone.
Take a look at the weather forecast and see if the storm is going to last. If it looks like it’s going to subside in an hour, you might as well wait out the hour and drive during safer conditions.
Reduce Your Speed
You can drive safer in almost any type of inclement weather if you simply reduce your speed. Lowering your speed helps you in several key ways. First, it gives you more time to react to changes in your surroundings.
If lightning takes out a tree in front of you or if a car in the lane next to you begins to swerve, you’ll have more time to respond appropriately, possibly avoiding a wreck.
It also helps you reduce the damage you and your car will sustain if you are involved in a collision, lessening the forces of a sudden stop.
It also doesn’t hurt to increase your following distance. Cars in front of you may drive erratically in this weather, especially if they underestimate its severity.
They may swerve due to the moisture on the road, or drive into standing water, suddenly and sharply reducing their speed. The more distance you have between you and them, the more time you’ll have to react.
Account for Your Tires
Your performance in heavy rain and wet conditions will depend heavily on the type of tires you have installed. Newer tires always have better traction than older tires, so if you haven’t replaced your tires in many years, you need to be extra cautious.
If you have rain tires, or tires with special features that give them more traction, you can drive more confidently—just don’t drive overconfidently.
Keep Your Headlights On (and Use Your Hazards When Appropriate)
Keep your normal headlights on at all times (i.e., not your high-beams), even if it’s light enough for you to see clearly.
Having your headlights on isn’t just about improving your personal visibility; it’s also about making your car more visible to the drivers around you.
If conditions become severe, like if a road is flooded or if there are crashed vehicles around you, be sure to turn your hazard lights on so the drivers behind you have more of a chance to appropriately react.
Find Shelter If You Can’t See
As the rain builds in intensity, you’ll increase the speed of your windshield wipers to compensate. However, there may come a point where your wipers simply can’t keep up.
If the rain is so intense that you’re having trouble seeing, don’t tolerate a blurry field of vision; pull over to the side of the road and wait for the rain to let up before you resume your journey.
Avoid Touching Metal Objects
Lightning is no joke. Generally, a car is a safe place to remain during a lightning storm, since it’s grounded by rubber tires and has plenty of interior insulators.
However, it’s important to avoid touching metal components of your vehicle; if lightning strikes your car and you’re touching metal, it could electrocute you.
Account for Wind
Wind may not seem powerful enough to move a car, but it can strongly influence your steering.
In some strong thunderstorms, the wind can take you completely out of your lane if you aren’t careful. Keep both hands on the wheel at all times, and be prepared for sudden changes from bursts of wind.
Be Aware of Overcorrection
If you panic, you’ll be likely to overcorrect in response to something unexpected, like wind or a momentary loss of vehicular control.
Try to remain as calm as possible, and resist the temptation to slam on the brakes or jerk the steering wheel. The more “in control” you are, the better.
Remember, your best strategy is to avoid driving during a severe thunderstorm altogether. Give the storm a few hours to pass, or stay overnight wherever you are; waiting to drive until conditions are back to normal could end up saving your life. If you do end up on the road, be extra cautious, and don’t underestimate the power of nature.