Driving in Emergencies & Disasters

When operating a motor vehicle during an emergency, there are several factors to be taken into consideration. Several of which are outlined below, including the type of disaster and the important points to take into account.

For example, during a loss of power, street lights and traffic control signals become ineffective. A driver must treat a 4-way traffic controlled intersection as a 4-way stop with traditional street signs.


Stay in the car! Avoid driving in severe winter storms if possible. If you are caught in a storm and your car becomes immobilized, stay in the vehicle and await rescue. Never attempt to walk from the car unless you can see a definite safe haven at a reasonable distance. Disorientation during blizzard conditions comes rapidly and being lost in the snow is exceedingly dangerous.

Turn on the auto engine for brief periods to provide heat, but always leave a down-wind window open slightly to avoid deadly carbon monoxide poisoning. Make sure the exhaust pipe is clear of snow. Exercise occasionally be moving your hands, arms, feet and legs. Do not remain in one position for long. Avoid overexertion and exposure from any shoveling or pushing of the car. Leave the dome light on at night as a signal for rescuers. If more than one person is in the car, sleep only in shifts.


Stay in your car! Bring the car to a halt as soon as safely possible, then remain in the car until the shaking has stopped. The car's suspension system will make the car shake violently during the quake, but it is still a safe place to be. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, overpasses and utility wires. When the quaking has stopped, proceed cautiously, avoiding bridges and other elevated structures which might have been damaged by the quake and could be damaged further by aftershocks.


Get out of the car! Never attempt to drive through water on a road. Water can be deeper than it appears, and water levels can rise very quickly. Cars can float dangerously for at least a short distance. A car can also be buoyed by floodwaters and then swept downstream during a flood.

Floodwaters can erode roadways, and a missing section of road or even a missing bridge may not be visible with water running over the area. If a car stalls in floodwater, get out quickly and move to higher ground. The floodwaters may continue to rise and the car can be swept away at any moment! Remember that it only takes about two feet of moving water and your car can be buoyed and carried away.

Summer Heat

Stay out of a parked car (this includes your animals)! During hot weather, heat build-up in a closed or nearly closed car can occur quickly and intensely to temperatures over 120 degrees. Children and pets can die from heat stroke in a matter of minutes when left in a closed car. Never leave anyone in a parked car during periods of high summer heat.


Get out of the car! A car is the least safe place to be during a tornado. When a warning is issued, do not try to leave the area by car. If you are in a car, leave it and find shelter in a building. If a tornado approaches and there are no safe structures nearby, lie flat in a ditch or other ground depression with your arms over your head. Also, do not seek shelter under an overpass. Contrary to popular belief, this is one of the most dangerous areas to be!

(Information taken from U.S. Search and Rescue Task Force website.)