Driving in a storm: how to drive safely in floods and high winds

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Simple steps to stay safe on the road during heavy rain, high winds, thunderstorms and lightning as Met Office warns of disruption

Forecasters expect the storms to be extremely localized and have warned this makes it difficult to pinpoint exactly which areas will be affected. While some locations may escape the inclement weather, those hit could experience significant disruption. Heavy rain hitting the ground hard due to high temperatures, experts are warning of a high flash flood risk that could cause problems on the roads.

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While it is advisable to avoid traveling in stormy weather, many people still need to get around. Here are our tips for staying safe on the roads during storms and floods.

How do you drive in a thunderstorm

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When you find yourself in the middle of a full-blown storm, the simplest advice is to avoid travel if you can. Of course this is not always possible. So if you must travel during a storm, allow extra time to complete your trip and be prepared to stop and stop when things get particularly bad.

If possible, choose more sheltered roads and avoid routes that you know are prone to flooding.

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Drive slowly, turn on your lights and distance yourself from other vehicles. Heavy rain or hail will obscure your view of the road ahead, giving you more time to react. Wet roads also significantly increase braking distances for cars and puddles pose the risk of aquaplaning – when all four wheels lose contact with the road and you no longer have control of the vehicle. Reducing your speed can help reduce the likelihood of this happening.

Strong winds can also make it difficult to maintain control, damaging the sides of the car and even getting under it, affecting handling and braking. Hold the steering wheel with both hands and be prepared for sudden gusts of wind hitting the car.

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Give more space to vulnerable road users like cyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians – they are more likely to be knocked over by strong winds or hit by puddles.

Am I safe from lightning in my car?

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In most cases, your car protects you from lightning.

Driving in a storm presents several challenges

The Met Office advises you to close all windows and stay in your car. When lightning strikes your car, the metal body should act as a Faraday cart, conducting the electricity around the outside of the vehicle and into the ground, rather than allowing it to reach the passengers inside.

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However, the Met Office also warns that fabric-topped convertibles could catch fire in a direct impact and that a lightning strike can still send a current through internal electronics and internal metal components such as metal door handles or pedals.

How to drive through flood water

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Storms inevitably bring flooding and large areas of standing water that can catch unwary drivers.

Be careful of puddles and standing water. What might look like a small roadside puddle could be hiding a deep pothole or a drain cover coming off that could cause serious damage to your car. Driving through even fairly shallow puddles can also cause aquaplaning.

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If you come across a seriously flooded road, it’s best to try and find an alternative route. A detour is better than risking your safety or damaging your car.

If you have to drive through a flood, first check how deep the water is. Get out and check, preferably with a stick, to gauge the depth. Remember that as little as 15cm of running water could knock you off your feet, so be careful. According to the AA, just a foot of running water makes a car swim, and two feet of still water is enough to do the same. It is recommended that you should not attempt to drive through anything more than four inches deep.

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Once you have determined it is safe to proceed, drive slowly and stay in the middle of the road. The crown, as it is known, is the highest point and should therefore be the shallowest section of the tide.

Driving in flood water can be dangerous

Do not stop. Maintain a steady, slow speed (5-6 km/h) and do not change gears. If necessary, slip the clutch to increase rpm and decrease speed. On an automatic, try braking gently while holding the accelerator pedal down. Moving slowly helps create a small bow wave that stops the engine compartment from flooding. Stopping could flood the engine bay or allow water to flow down the exhaust pipe – both bad news.

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Watch out for other vehicles and pedestrians. You don’t want to drench pedestrians or possibly flood or damage someone else’s car.

If you get stuck, it’s usually safest to stay in the car and call for help. Of course, you’ll need to use your common sense to decide if this is the best option based on your circumstances.

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Once you’ve turned the tide, dry your brakes. Apply them gently while driving slowly to get the water out of them.

Keep in mind that modern cars are full of complex electrical systems that are prone to water damage. Speeding through a puddle that pushes water into the engine bay or wading into a deep flood can quickly result in expensive damage. Each year the AA rescues nearly 9,000 vehicles that have been driven through or stuck in floods, with an estimated insurance bill of more than £34m.

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How to ride in strong winds

If your travel is necessary, take some time before heading out to check local road reports for any closures or disruptions from the storm. Five minutes of research before departure or a slightly different route can save you long waiting times or detours. Try to stick to the main routes.

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Keep a firm grip on the steering wheel. It sounds simple, but many drivers have a habit of holding the steering wheel lightly or with just one hand. A strong gust of wind is enough to throw your car off course, and if you don’t get a good grip on the steering wheel, you can lose control entirely.

Slow down and make room. Strong winds result in a lot of dirt on the road. So if you reduce your speed, you have more time to recognize and react to obstacles such as fallen branches. Some vehicles, including motorcycles and trucks with high sides, are also more vulnerable to the effects of the wind, so leave extra room when passing them.

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When you reach your destination, do not park near trees, trash cans, or anything else that could be knocked over or blown into your car by strong winds.

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