Driver Safety During Natural Disasters

Natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados, winter storms, and wildfires can make driving conditions extremely dangerous, if not deadly. Whether you operate your practice out of a mobile vehicle or routinely use a vehicle to transport patients to a brick-and-mortar practice, it's crucial to be prepared for driving in the elements. Being proactive is crucial to maintaining the safety of both your vehicle and any patients you might be transporting. 

What can you do to prepare?

Thanks to enhanced technology and response times, most natural disasters today are preceded by multiple warnings that facilitate preparation. This gives you a chance to better understand the severity of the situation at its location, even allowing some to potentially alter driving plans accordingly. However, some harsh weather arrives abruptly or is unavoidable. With this in mind, consider the following steps while engaging in mobile practice.

Pay attention to weather and road condition reports. This is a driver’s first line of defense during and after a natural disaster. If the roads are treacherous, pull over to a safe location to wait until the roads clear.

2.  Maintain a full tank of gas. During or even after a natural disaster, finding an open and operable gas station isn’t always easy. Don’t take the risk of being stranded on the side of the road and make sure to gas up well in advance.

3.  Check the depth of standing water whenever possible. Do not drive into any areas where the possibility exists that your vehicle could become inoperable or submerged. Determining the depth of water submerging a road is next to impossible to determine from behind the wheel, and checking can be challenging. When in doubt, reverse and find an alternate route.

4.  Always assume that all downed power lines are live or active. Do not come into contact with them or anything they are touching, and never attempt to clear them from the road. As is recommended with road submerged by water, simply reverse and find an alternate route.

5.  Ensure that critical vehicle systems are in working condition. This includes tires, brakes, windshield wipers, and lights – at all times. Schedule regular preventive maintenance on your vehicle, and take the time to do routine self-inspections.

6.  During lightning, avoid touching metal. Should your car be struck by lightning, the metal exterior will transmit the current to the ground. Wait to exit until you’re certain the current has dissipated. A greater risk is if lightning hits a tree or power line, which could send obstacles your way.

7.  In wet or icy conditions, leave a six-second gap between yourself and the next car. Never use cruise control during a storm. Should you hydroplane, let go of the gas and steer straight until you gain control of the vehicle again.

8.  If your vehicle gets stuck in water, abandon it. Do so immediately and head for higher ground. Flooding has a tendency to rapidly increase in severity, so there’s no time to waste. If the water is high enough to trap your vehicle, there’s a good chance the flooding could get worse.

9.  Don’t rely on technology. Cell service and GPS may be down in affected areas, or may cut out abruptly. Consider obtaining paper maps of an area if you’re not familiar with it and know that if you’re driving in the aftermath of a harsh storm or natural disaster, it’s very likely that traffic lights will be down.

10. Pack an emergency supply kit. Keep the following emergency supplies in your vehicle at all times: flashlight, rain poncho, charged fire extinguisher, dry food, patient lead ropes and handling equipment, blankets, water, dry change of clothing, spare fuses, windshield washer fluid, and first aid kit