Hurricane Driving: Top 5 Safety Tips

With 11 named storms already in the books and 18 total predicted for the year, the 2010 hurricane season, although more than halfway through, is (literally) picking up speed. And to make matters worse, weather.com is forecasting that the next month or 2 of hurricanes will pose a particular threat to the U.S.

But no need to panic. Honestly. As with most things, the best way to handle a hurricane is to be prepared. That said, we put together a short list of things you should know about preparing for and driving through intense storms.

Here are the top 5 most-important hurricane driving tips to know:

Be hurricane prepared.

The best way to be prepared is to be prepared. If you’re in a hurricane-prone area, check local weather and newscasts regularly, and be ready to leave even before an official evacuation is ordered. Keep your gas tank full and your bag of essentials packed. Most importantly, don’t wait until the last minute to make your way out of town. If you procrastinate, you risk being stuck in traffic as the storm intensifies around you. (Not good!)

Be hurricane prepared.

We really can’t say it enough. If you live in a place all too familiar with names like Igor, Hugo, and Andrew, put together a hurricane kit and make sure it’s easily accessible. It may sound like paranoia to you now, but you’ll thank yourself for being so crazy if you ever need it. The Red Cross recommends including obvious things, like fresh water, food, and flashlights, as well as some not-so-obvious items, like pet supplies, games for the kids, and liquid bleach. Build your preparedness kit.

Be smart when the hurricane hits.

If, in spite of all your preparation, you find yourself on the road when a hurricane hits, use your noggin (and WSJ Blogs) to stay safe:

  1. Stay in your car and try to find shelter — an overpass or parking garage — if you can.
  2. When possible, avoid driving through water, which can hide dangers, damage your engine, or even carry your vehicle away.
  3. Watch out for wires that have been knocked down in the storm. You could get stuck driving through them, and worse, they could make rescue impossible.

Be aware of your surroundings.

When you’re on the road during a storm, it’s essential to remain aware of what’s around you. Because of their increased surface area, larger vehicles, trailers, big trucks, and buses are actually more vulnerable when driving in high winds. Keep your eyes out for big vehicles and maintain more of a distance than you normally would.

Be a hurricane driving pro.

As you head away from the storm, it may be tempting to set the cruise control and go. Don’t. Cruise control can cause your vehicle to accelerate during a hydroplane, making a bad situation worse in just seconds. If you hydroplane, let off the gas slowly and steer straight until your tires find the road again. Don’t slam on the brakes or turn the steering wheel. Once you regain traction, lightly tap the brake pedal to help dry the brakes.

And of course, if it’s raining so hard that you can’t see the road or the car in front of you, pull over and wait it out.

When it comes to hurricanes, your best bet is to steer clear of danger altogether. If you find yourself caught in a big storm during the next few months, however, keep these tips in mind to avoid the worst and stay safe on the road.

Top 5.1 Things You Don’t Know About the Electric Car

With the Nissan LEAF making its market debut this year, the Ford Focus EV due out in late 2011, and BMW working on a small electric car that could launch in 2012, it seems that the era of the electric vehicle (EV) is finally upon us.

But with so much hype and hoopla circulating, many of us could barely fill a thimble with what we actually know about EVs. With that in mind, we compiled this list. It’s by no means a comprehensive overview, just the top 5.1 most important things to know about the long-awaited and highly-touted electric car.

1. How the heck it works In a (layman’s) nutshell…

Rechargeable batteries provide electricity to a controller, which powers a motor, which, in turn, spins the wheels. Yup, that’s it. Instead of filling up with gas, batteries are “filled up” with electricity. Recharging can be done by plugging into a normal 120- or 240-volt electrical outlet and takes anywhere from 4–10 hours.

2. How far it can go

Though driving range might vary depending on the type of vehicle and batteries, most EVs can go 80–100 miles on a single charge. And while that’s not sufficient for a Thelma & Louise-type adventure, for the general population, it’s plenty of power to get to work and home again with a few errands in between. Plus, similar to fuel-powered cars, the way you drive an electric car can affect battery efficiency.

3. How safe it is

Because there are 3 different categories of electric cars – Highway Capable, 3-wheeled “motorcycles,” and Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEV) — safety standards vary somewhat. Low-speed NEVs and 3-wheeled vehicles are currently subject to different requirements, but all highway-capable electric vehicles are regulated by the same standards as gas-powered vehicles. And in fact, in March of this year, 41 countries met in Geneva and agreed on international safety standards for fully electric vehicles.

4. How much it costs

Until recently, the Tesla Roadster was one of the few highway-worthy EVs on the market. And at $110K a pop, it was about as accessible as a NASA space shuttle. But with the Chevy Volt expected to hit showrooms later this year at a base price of $41K, and the Nissan LEAF scheduled for a December release at around $28–35K, electric cars are becoming more and more affordable.

5. How much it saves

Subtract from these prices the $7,500 federal tax credit you’ll get if you buy an electric car before the end of 2011, and the odds of being able to afford an EV in the near future jump from out-of-this-world to pretty-darn-good. And that’s without mentioning how much you can save on gas and maintenance.

5.1 How it all adds up

Electric vehicles are 100% emission-free and 97% cleaner than gas-powered vehicles. According to Scientific American, the cost of charging an electric vehicle is equivalent to paying 75 cents per gallon in gas. Over the life of a vehicle, the total “fuel” savings are likely to be thousands of dollars. They’re also 3 times as efficient. It all adds up to a happier, richer you and a happier, richer planet.

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5 steps to buying an electric car

This post has been updated to reflect the pricing of the 2011 Chevy Volt.