Imagine driving through a desolate desert landscape. You’re listening to your favorite playlist and everything seems calm and uneventful. Ancient cacti stand like statues for miles. And then, as you gaze into the distance, you see it — a giant wall of dust moving ominously toward the highway.
You get a sinking feeling in your stomach as you realize you’re not going to be able to plow through that thing, even if you were driving a semi-truck. The good news is you shouldn’t even try. Read up on these 5 tips for staying safe while driving during a dust storm.
1. Remain calm
It may be easy to keep your cool if you see a dust storm coming well in advance, but if one catches you off-guard, it’s important to stay calm so you can act safely and avoid an accident. The last thing you want to do in an already hectic situation is to drive erratically, especially since you can’t predict how other drivers will react.
2. Safely pull over to the side of the road
Check your mirrors and blind spots, and as soon as possible, pull over to the side of the road. If you have enough distance between you and the dust storm to buy you some time, it may even be safer to exit the highway entirely at the next off-ramp.
If you’re on side streets, try to find cover in the form of a carport or public parking garage. To put it simply, the key thing to do when driving in a dust storm is to get off the roadways — and don’t wait until the storm impairs your visibility. Never park in emergency-vehicle or HOV lanes.
If you’re not in a safe place to pull over, slow down considerably. When your visibility is impaired and you can only see what’s within a short distance ahead of you, it’s imperative to drive at a slow speed that doesn’t pose a threat to you or other drivers.
3. Turn off all of your car’s lights
When visibility is low, many drivers use the lights of the vehicles in front of them to guide their own paths. If another motorist sees your car’s lights while you’re parked on the side of the road, they could end up rear-ending you, thinking you’re still moving.
That’s why you should turn off all your lights: headlights, hazard/emergency lights, and brake lights (which obviously requires that you remove your foot from the brake once you’re parked). Keep your seat belt fastened, lock your doors, and apply the parking brake.
4. Listen to your local weather station as you wait it out
A Dust Storm Warning is usually issued when wind speeds reach 30 mph or more and when visibility is half a mile or less because of blowing sand and dust.
Tune into your local weather station to see how severe the storm is projected to be, the radius that it affects, and how long it’s forecasted to last. Luckily, even some of the most intense dust storms last only a few minutes before visibility is safe enough to drive again — but some last longer than an hour.
It’s essential that you wait out the dust storm until you’re entirely sure it’s safe to drive again, which means you consistently have at least 300 feet of visibility in front of you. Again, checking in with your local weather station can keep you up-to-date on the storm’s status.
5. Get back on the road
Once the coast is clear, be sure to employ the same amount of caution getting back on the road as you did pulling off to the side of it. Heavy rainfall is common in some regions of the U.S. immediately following a dust storm, so be aware of your surroundings and drive at a speed that’s safe for the weather and traffic conditions you’re facing. Stay tuned in to your local weather station until you reach your destination.
Bonus tip: Keep your car prepared for dust storms
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