5 Tips for Driving in a Sandstorm

Posted by Safeco June 23, 2016
Dust Storm Safety Tips for Drivers

What to Do if a Dust Storm Kicks Up While You’re Out on the Road

Dust storms in the United States are no longer the devastating “black blizzards” of the 1930s Dust Bowl, which blew dust from the southwest plains as far as New York City. But, dust storms and sandstorms still strike the American Southwest annually.

Phoenix experiences one to three large dust storms each year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and about 10 are reported throughout Arizona in an average year. Dust storms or sandstorms — or “haboobs” as they are known in the Sahara Desert — also occur in New Mexico, eastern California and Texas.

A sandstorm may last only a few minutes, and usually not longer than half an hour. Yet, they can cause serious damage and extremely hazardous driving conditions. In the U.S., they caused two fatalities, 15 injuries and $30,000 in crop and property damage in 2015, according to statistics from the National Weather Service (NWS). In the 10-year period from 2005 to 2014, the NWS reported seven fatalities, 78 injuries and $1.62 million in damage due to the storms.

If a dust storm crosses your path while you’re on the road, keep these tips from Arizona’s departments of Transportation and Public Safety and the NWS in mind.

  1. Don’t drive into or through a dust storm. When you see a storm approaching, start checking traffic on all sides of your vehicle. Slow down and start planning how to get off the road.
  2. Pull off the highway as soon as you can and as far off the pavement as you can, exiting the highway completely if possible. Don’t wait for reduced visibility, and don’t stop in a travel lane or emergency lane.
  3. If it’s impossible to pull off the roadway, proceed with your lights on, matching your speed to the visibility and occasionally sounding your horn.
  4. If you’re stopped, turn off your lights, including emergency flashers, according to PullAsideStayAlive.org. If other drivers follow your lights in the storm, they could rear-end your car. Set your emergency brake and take your foot off the brake pedal to make sure the brake lights are off.
  5. Wait inside your car and remain buckled up until the storm passes.

When a dust storm blows across a road or a freeway, it can quickly create hazardous conditions as visibility can drop to near zero. If the NWS issues a Dust Storm or Sand Storm Warning, it means you can expect visibility of a half mile or less and wind speeds of 30 mph or more. So, stay inside and off the roads, if you can, until it all blows over. You’ll be glad you did.


Safe Drivers May Earn Rewards

It pays to be prepared for driving hazards that appear without warning while you’re on the road. It helps keep you and your family safe, and it keeps your driving record clean, and that may make you eligible for a discount. Safeco Safety Rewards™ offer a number of ways to earn discounts on your automobile insurance. Talk to your independent insurance agent to review your policy and make sure you’re receiving the car insurance discounts you deserve.

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