Safety first: Driving after a hurricane

Consumer Reports News: August 30, 2011 10:08 AM

Hurricane Irene blew through the Eastern states, leaving damage, flooding, and heartbreak in its wake. Many families are emerging from debris-strewn neighborhoods without power, eager for supplies and a break from cabin fever. Proceed cautiously, as your once-safe neighborhood may present new dangers.

Here are some tips to help keep you and loved ones safe and avoid further inconveniences:

Don’t start a wet engine. If the car is parked in a flooded situation, or stalls in deep water, turning it on can do serious engine damage.

Avoid driving through standing water. During most storms, a puddle is just an opportunity to splash, but after a hurricane, it can conceal deep pot holes and tire-puncturing debris.

Don’t assume road debris is just sticks and leaves. Many roads are covered with all manner of plant debris from the winds, but within that mess can be nails and other objects unfriendly to tires. Keep in mind, traveling just after a storm has a higher likelihood of experiencing a flat tire. Bring an emergency kit with you and cell phone, just in case.

Wet brakes can take longer to slow a vehicle. After driving through large puddles, lightly apply the brake pedal to dry the brakes off.

Hurricane-Irene-tree-across-road-2.jpgKeep speeds low, courtesy high. This has been a stressful time for everyone in the hurricane zone, so travel slowly—you never know what obstacles you may face—and be extra patient. Intersections may be without lights and drivers will be distracted, making errand-running a bit more dangerous than usual. Be kind to others, be predictable, and follow the laws.

Don’t drive under fallen trees. Many trees have fallen during the storm, resting across power lines. While it may be tempting to driving under a tree that is arching over the road, don’t do it. It may look safe, but it is mere chance that is holding the tree in its position. Further, power lines may or may not have electricity coursing through them. Even if you avoid driving on the lines, a wind gust could blow an unseen wire into contact with your car.

Call your insurance company if the car was damaged by the storm. Take photos of the vehicle and context, showing the area around the car. Having visual evidence of how the damaged occurred may help with processing the claim.

Watch out for pedestrians. Many people are simply walking their neighborhood streets to assess damage, check in on friends, and get a little exercise. People are more likely to be literally in the streets, as sidewalks may be blocked, and the reduced traffic may encourage them to be less cautious.

As you head out, go slow and watch out for others. Ultimately, you want to make the challenging situation better, not worse.

Share your post-storm driving tips and experiences in the comments below.

To help you get through the aftermath of Irene, check out Consumer Reports post-disaster tips:

Jeff Bartlett

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