How to stay safe on the roads during severe weather

Severe Weather Arizona
Posted at 3:00 PM, Jun 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-27 16:03:32-04

GLENDALE — Monsoon 2022 is officially here and that means blowing dust, intense storms, and flooding will make driving conditions dangerous some days across Arizona.

For those not used to severe weather, a Valley driving school is using modern technology to teach student drivers how to stay safe while driving through stormy conditions.

When storms strike in the Valley, drivers tend to freeze on our freeways, making Glendale's Driving MBA's on-site training simulators an important form of training. Students can make their mistakes there virtually, according to Curriculum Director Kathleen Ryan.

"If we can train them in here, where they can make those errors, so we can replay it, we can learn from it, and they can learn how to make those adjustments to stay safe."

Driving MBA offers virtual training at its Glendale and Scottsdale locations.

Although most of the clients are high schoolers, Driving MBA also provides lessons for foreigners moving to the U.S., the elderly, and defensive driving courses used by ADOT and local police departments.

Get your car monsoon ready

Arizona Department of Transportation offers many driving tips when it comes to storms and severe weather.

General tips:

  • Expect the unexpected. Have extra supplies, including a fully charged cell phone, drinking water and an emergency kit in case you experience an extended highway closure.
  • When in doubt, wait it out! If you see a dust storm or heavy rain ahead, it’s best to exit and wait for the storm to move through the area. Get to a safe area as far off the roadway as possible.
  • When faced with low- or zero-visibility conditions, pull your vehicle off the road as far to the right as possible. Turn off your lights, set the parking brake, and take your foot off the brake pedal. These steps reduce the chances that other drivers mistake your vehicle as the one to follow.
  • Don’t risk crossing a flooded wash, even if it doesn’t look deep. Water is a powerful force that should not be underestimated. Even a few inches of running water poses a serious risk.
  • Do not drive around “Road Closed” signs. You risk your life and face being cited under the state’s Stupid Motorist law.
  • If traffic lights are out, treat an intersection just like a four-way stop.
  • Storm runoff can loosen boulders and rocks on slopes above highways. Stay alert in areas prone to falling rocks.

During rain:

  • Before you drive, inspect your windshield wipers, and replace them if necessary.
  • Turn on your headlights while driving.
  • Reduce your speed and maintain a safe distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you; create a "space cushion."
  • Avoid sudden braking, which can cause you to slide on the wet pavement. To slow down, take your foot off the gas pedal and brake slowly.
  • Avoid areas where water is pooling in travel lanes; if possible, use center lanes and drive in the tracks of the vehicle ahead of you.
  • The tires of larger vehicles, like trucks and buses, create spray that can lessen visibility so don’t follow them too closely.
  • Be cautious of hydroplaning. This occurs when a thin layer of water accumulates between your tires and the asphalt and your vehicle loses contact with the roadway. You might suddenly feel your vehicle sliding or drifting because you’ve lost traction. If you feel you are hydroplaning, ease your foot off the gas pedal until you regain traction. Do not brake suddenly. If you are sliding or drifting, gently turn your steering wheel in the direction of your slide.

During dust storms:

  • Immediately check traffic around your vehicle (front, back and to the side) and begin slowing down.
  • Do not wait until poor visibility makes it difficult to safely pull off the roadway -- do it as soon as possible. Completely exit the highway if you can.
  • Do not stop in a travel lane or in the emergency lane. Look for a safe place to pull completely off the paved portion of the roadway.
  • Turn off all vehicle lights, including your emergency flashers. You do not want other vehicles approaching from behind to use your lights as a guide, possibly crashing into your parked vehicle.
  • Set your emergency brake and take your foot off the brake.
  • Stay in the vehicle with your seatbelts buckled and wait for the storm to pass.
  • Drivers of high-profile vehicles should be especially aware of changing weather conditions and travel at reduced speeds.

During extreme heat:

  • Plan your travel route in advance.
  • Notify someone of your route, destination and projected arrival time.
  • Fill your fuel tank and try to keep it at three-quarters full. Running out of gas — especially in a remote location — is extremely dangerous in extreme heat.
  • Heat can zap your battery. Make sure your battery is up to par and has enough fluid. Consider having it tested, especially if it's three or more years old. Replace it if necessary.
  • Check coolant levels and top them off if needed. If coolant needs to be flushed and replaced, do so before your trip begins. Note: Never remove the radiator cap while your engine is hot!
  • Top off vital engine fluids such as motor oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid and power-steering fluid.
  • The combination of under inflated tires and hot pavement can lead to a blowout. Check your tire pressure. It should be at the level recommended by the vehicle manufacturer.
  • Make sure your vehicle's air conditioning system is functioning properly.