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Driving in Disasters - Some Safety Tips


Safety Tips for Motorists in Emergencies

In times of emergency people often react incorrectly, either staying with or abandoning their cars at the wrong time.

A mistake can be fatal.

After almost every disaster, search and rescue teams find victims who might have survived if they had known whether to stay with or leave their cars.

On this page are safety tips, provided by FEMA, for drivers in various types of emergencies. This information should be kept in the glove compartment of your car. In any situation, the most important rule is: Don't panic.

Listen to radio or television for the latest National Weather Service bulletins on severe weather for the area in which you will drive.


Stay in the 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 that might have been damaged by the quake and could be damaged further by aftershocks.


Evacuate Early

Flooding can being well before a hurricane nears land. Plan to evacuate early, and keep a full tank of gas during the hurricane season. Learn the best evacuation route before a storm forms, and make arrangements with friends or relatives inland to stay with them until the storm has passed. Never attempt to drive during a hurricane or until the all-clear is given after the storm. Flash flooding can occur after a hurricane has passed. Avoid driving on coastal and low-lying roads. Storm surge and hurricane-caused flooding are erratic and may occur with little or no warning.


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. Most cars will float dangerously for at least a short while. A car can be buoyed by floodwaters and then swept downstream during a flood. Floodwaters also can erode roadways, and a missing section of road - even a missing bridge - will not be visible with water running over the area. Wade through floodwaters only if the water is not flowing rapidly and only in water no higher than the knees. If a car stalls in floodwater, get out quickly and move to higher ground. The floodwaters may still be rising, and the car could be swept away at any moment.


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.


Stay In The Car

Avoid driving in severe winter storms. If you are caught in a storm and your car becomes immobilized, stay in the vehicle and await rescue. Do not 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 by clapping hands and moving around. Do not remain in one position for long, but avoid overexertion and exposure from shoveling or pushing 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.

Summer Heat

Get Out Of The Car

During hot weather, heat build-up in a closed or nearly closed car can occur quickly and intensely. 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.

Developing Emergency

Stay Informed

In times of developing emergencies such as toxic material spill, nuclear plant accident, or enemy attack, keep a radio or television on and await instructions. If evacuation is recommended, move quickly but calmly, following instructions as to route to be used, evacuation shelter to be sought, and other directions.

Emergency Supplies to Keep In The Car

Cars should be equipped with supplies which could be useful in any emergency. Depending on location, climate of the area, personal requirements and other variables, the supplies in the kit might include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Blanket or sleeping bag
  • Booster cables and tools
  • Bottled water
  • Canned fruits and nuts
  • Can opener
  • Rain gear and extra clothes
  • Shovel
  • First aid kit
  • Matches and candles
  • Traction mats or chains
  • Flashlight
  • Never carry gasoline in containers other than the car's gas tank!

Source: FEMA, Form L-116 Sep 94

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Cumberland County, NC.
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Fayetteville, NC 28301