Extreme Weather
Driving Guide

If you must be on the road during bad weather,
these pro tips can help you stay safe.

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Every driver knows what can happen when Mother Nature decides to unleash a weather event: roads become slippery, visibility drops and the risk of accidents rises.

Of the roughly 5,891,000 vehicle crashes in the United States each year, approximately 21% occur as a result of adverse weather, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, resulting in 6,000 fatalities and 445,000 injuries. Rain, wind, lightning, sleet and snow can all take a toll, whether you’re driving on a major interstate or a country road.

So how do you stay safe? The best strategy is not to drive, if at all possible. But if you get caught in bad weather while you’re out on the road—or you absolutely can’t avoid driving in bad conditions—here are some strategies to help minimize the hazards that Mother Nature may hurl at you.

The Winter Car
Prep Checklist

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The Winter Car
Prep Checklist

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How To Drive In Heavy Rain

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How To Drive In A Flash Flood

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Here’s Another Way To Prepare Yourself For A Rainy Day:

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How To Drive In A Lightning Storm

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How To Drive In A Tornado

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How To Drive In A Hail Storm

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How To Make An Emergency Car Safety Kit

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Bad Weather Can Leave
You Stranded

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How To
Correct A Skid

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How To Navigate Black Ice

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Bad Weather Can Leave
You Stranded

Let 24/7 Emergency Roadside Service (ERS) from GEICO save the day.

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How To Make An Emergency Car Safety Kit

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How To Drive
In Snow

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How To Drive In A Blizzard

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What To Do If You Get Stranded

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You Can’t Dial Up Good Weather, But You Can Dial Up Geico.
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GEICO’s insurance agents are available round the clock, so no matter when you’re driving, someone will be
there to help. You can also access emergency roadside assistance or report a claim via the GEICO Mobile app.

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How To Drive In Heavy Rain

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Almost half (46 percent) of all weather-related crashes happen when it’s raining out, reports the DOT. It’s easy to see why: A deluge can batter windshields and turn roads into slick paths. That’s why driving in heavy rain is never advisable. But if you get caught in a storm or absolutely have to drive in one, follow these tips from James Solomon of the National Safety Council.

Driving Strategies

  • Turn on your lights but not your high beams; the extra-bright light from high beams can reflect off the water and shine back into your eyes.
  • Slow down. Stay below the speed limit, and leave five seconds or more of following distance between your car and the car in front of you.
  • Never use cruise control on wet roads. You need to be able to “feel” the tire traction, or loss thereof, through the car’s accelerator.
  • If water is covering the markings on the road, it’s too deep to drive on. You can lose control with as little as three inches of moving water on the road.
  • Consider your route: If it runs through low-lying underpasses or past ditches prone to flooding, take the highway instead.
  • A few times a month, clean the outsides and insides of windshields and windows, and inspect your windshield wiper blades for wear. Check the level of your washer fluid once a month.

Read more about driving safely in heavy rain.

How To Drive During A Flash Flood

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Floods are the most common and widespread of all weather-related natural disasters, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And flash floods—when floodwaters rise quickly—are very dangerous to drivers and passengers, says the Federal Emergency Management Agency: Almost half of all flash-flood fatalities occur in vehicles. While you shouldn’t drive in a flash flood if at all possible, it’s important to know what to do if you find yourself caught in one. Be especially careful in densely populated areas, where the abundance of pavement prevents runoff absorption, and near rivers, where waters can rise very quickly.

Driving Strategies

  • If you come upon a flooded or barricaded road while driving, turn around and go the other way. “Your vehicle can float off the road when there’s just three inches of moving water,” says James Solomon of the National Safety Council. Six inches of water could cause your car to stall.
  • If you’re caught on a flooded road and waters are rising rapidly, get out of the car quickly and move to higher ground.
  • If you evacuate an area due to flooding, be certain that floodwaters have receded before returning.

Read more about what to do in case of a flood.

How To Drive In A Lightning Storm

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Lightning strikes the earth more than 8 million times a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And while your risk of being hit is low, the resulting injuries can be serious, even when you’re in your car. Between 2003 and 2012, lightning caused an average of 35 deaths per year in the United States. Don’t get behind the wheel when there’s lightning. But here’s what to do if you can’t avoid driving or find yourself caught in a storm.

Driving Strategies

  • Safely pull to the side of the road. Turn on the emergency blinkers, turn off the engine, and don’t touch metallic objects that connect to the outside of the car—like door and window handles, radio dials, gearshifts or the steering wheel. Simply wait out the storm.
  • If you’re in a hard top, stay inside your car with the windows rolled up. You’re much safer inside a vehicle than outside, advises FEMA. Soft tops provide less protection; so if you’re driving one, it’s best to find other shelter.
  • Remain in your car for at least 30 minutes after hearing the last clap of thunder, advises NOAA.

+ Myth Debunker: What to do if your car gets struck by lightning

A common myth is that tires protect you from lightning when you’re in the car. But lightning will travel through your car’s metal on its way to the ground (which is why you shouldn’t touch anything in the car). Once the electrical current has made its way through the vehicle, and if there are no downed power lines nearby, check to see if it’s safe to get out, says James Solomon of the National Safety Council.

How To Drive In A Tornado

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Tornadoes are nature’s most violent storms. Spawned from powerful thunderstorms, they can cause fatalities and devastate a neighborhood in seconds, according to FEMA. A tornado appears as a rotating, funnel-shaped cloud that extends from sky to ground, with swirling winds that can reach up to 300 miles per hour. Every state is at some risk of tornadoes, so it’s important to recognize them and know what to do if you see one. Don’t drive in a tornado, however, if at all possible.

Driving Strategies

  • If possible, seek shelter in a sturdy building. If nearby shelter isn’t available, stay in your car and do not try to outrun the tornado. Then follow these recommendations from NOAA: Park your car as quickly and safely as possible out of the traffic lanes. Stay in the car with your seatbelt on. Put your head down below the windows, covering it with your hands and a blanket, coat or other cushion if possible. Only leave your car if you can safely get noticeably lower than the level of the roadway. Lie down in that area and cover your head with your hands.

How To Drive In A Hailstorm

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Hail is created when updrafts in thunderstorms carry raindrops upward into extremely cold areas of the atmosphere, where they freeze into balls of ice, according to NOAA. Hail falls at fast speeds and can cause injury to anyone—and anything—in its path. So avoid driving in a hailstorm if at all possible. James Solomon of the National Safety Council offers these recommendations if you get caught in one.

Driving Strategies

  • Driving through a hailstorm raises the risk of severe damage, so safely pull over to the side of the road and stay in your car until it passes.
  • Parking in a garage or parking ramp is ideal. But if you can’t find cover, head to a parking lot, turn on your emergency flashers, and angle your car so that the hail hits the front of your vehicle. Front windshields are reinforced to withstand pelting objects; side windows and back windshields are more susceptible to breaking.
  • If you have a sunroof, pull the shade slider closed. Try to position yourself away from the sunroof; hail could shatter it. Cover yourself with a blanket.

Did you know? If your car is damaged by hail, you can report a claim on the GEICO Mobile app.

How To Correct A Skid

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Whenever the road is wet, you run a greater risk of skidding or hydroplaning. That’s what happens when your tires lose traction with the road and your car slides on the surface of the water. While it’s best not to drive when the roads are slick, it may be unavoidable. If you must drive, or you get caught in a storm, here’s what James Solomon of the National Safety Council recommends you do.

Driving Strategies

  • Keeping your tires in tune will help prevent your car from hydroplaning on wet roads. Make sure to rotate and balance your vehicle’s tires every other time you have your oil changed. (Check your owner’s manual to see how often you should take your car in.)
  • Drive 5 to 10 miles slower than the speed limit when roads are wet, and even slower in heavy rain or windy conditions. Sudden increases in speed, such as those required to pass, put you at a greater danger of hydroplaning. Avoid sudden acceleration.
  • Avoid driving over any spot where you see standing water.
  • Never use cruise control when it’s raining or while driving on wet roads. If you start hydroplaning, immediately take your foot off the accelerator. Don’t hit the brakes; this can cause your car to skid out of control.
  • If you do start to skid, turn the wheel in the direction you want the front of the vehicle to go. Don’t be afraid if you can’t steer out of the skid on the first try. It may take three to five adjustments to get back on course.
  • Wait to feel the tires reconnect with the surface of the road. If you’re (understandably) shaken, pull over where you safely can and collect yourself.

How To Navigate Black Ice

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Black ice is neither black nor white—it’s clear. You’ll most likely encounter it during the early morning, especially after snowmelt has frozen overnight, according to the National Weather Service. It can also form when roads are slick from rain and temperatures drop below freezing. You’re more likely to find it on bridges or elevated roadways, parts of the road without much sunshine (like a tunnel) and roads that don’t see much traffic. It’s best not to drive when the roads are slick, but if you get caught on wet roads in freezing conditions (or can’t avoid them), here’s how James Solomon of the National Safety Council recommends handling this hazardous condition.

Driving Strategies

  • Watch out for pavement that looks dark, wet or like new asphalt.
  • Slow down and keep your foot off the brake as your vehicle crosses these areas.
  • Increase the gap between your car and the vehicle in front. You may need to allow up to 10 times the normal distance for braking.
  • Black ice will make your steering feel light. Respond by easing off the accelerator and being delicate with your steering movements.
  • To slow down on ice and snow without locking your wheels, take your foot off the accelerator and use your brakes gently.

How To Drive In Snow

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Here’s the first thing to remember: Any amount of snowfall can make driving more of a challenge. That’s why it’s best to avoid driving in snow if at all possible. But if you get caught in a storm or can’t avoid driving, exercise caution at the first sign of snow, no matter the size of the snowflakes. Large, wet snowflakes can pile up quickly and cause slippery road surfaces; while small, light snowflakes can result in icy windshields, obscuring visibility, says James Solomon of the National Safety Council. The resulting road conditions can vary, so be prepared for anything: hard-packed and slippery, rutted with gullies, or even smooth and soft. And if the snow is wet, slush can build up in the wheel wells of your vehicle and affect your ability to steer. Here’s what James Solomon of the National Safety Council recommends doing.

Driving Strategies

  • Even if there’s only a dusting of snow, slow down; you’ll need more time to react to unexpected situations.
  • Braking ability can be severely impaired in snow, so leave at least eight seconds between you and the vehicle in front. Even in light snow, when compared with dry conditions, it can take up to double the distance to stop.
  • If at all possible, don’t stop on inclines (like highway ramps), where you risk losing traction. And take special care driving downhill.

How To Drive In A Blizzard

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Blizzards present a dangerous combination of blowing snow and wind that results in very low visibility, according to NOAA. You may be able to see only a few feet in front of you; even the road surface and markings may be obscured. Avoid driving in blizzards whenever possible. But if you must, says Taylor Sikes of the American Safety Council, here’s what to do.

Driving Strategies

  • Make sure you’re driving slowly; give yourself more time than you think you need to turn or brake.
  • Make yourself as visible as you can to others on the road. Turn on your headlights, including fog lights if you have them. Consider turning on your hazard lights, too, if you drop below the speed limit.
  • If the whiteout conditions obstruct your view or you don’t feel you can control your car, look for the nearest exit to wait out the storm.
  • If there’s no other option, when safely possible, pull to the side of the road, turn on your hazard lights, and wait for the whiteout to subside. It’s safer if you can get to a shoulder of a road, where cars are moving slower; that will help reduce the chance of a high-speed accident.

Get more tips on how to drive during a winter storm. And see if you could save on GEICO auto insurance with an online defensive driving course through the American Safety Council.

What To Do If You Get Stranded

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While it’s best to not drive in a blizzard if at all possible, it’s good to know how to handle this extreme condition. If the storm traps you in your car or you end up on the side of the road in a snowbank, don’t panic, says James Solomon of the National Safety Council. Follow these guidelines on how to stay safe—and get out of there.

Survival Strategies

  • Remain in your vehicle, where rescuers are most likely to find you, suggests FEMA. Go outside only if there’s a building nearby where you know you can take shelter. And be aware that what seems “nearby” may be misleading; distances can be distorted by blowing snow.
  • Run the engine and heater for about 10 minutes every hour to keep warm. When the engine is running, open an upwind window slightly for ventilation, to protect you from possible carbon monoxide poisoning. Periodically clear snow from the exhaust pipe.
  • Try to keep your body moving to generate heat and help prevent frostbite, but avoid overexertion. In extreme cold, use seat covers and floor mats for insulation. Huddle with passengers and use your coat for a blanket.
  • If stranded in a remote area, stomp large block letters in an open area spelling out HELP or SOS and line them with rocks or tree limbs to attract the attention of rescuers who may be flying overhead.
  • Leave the car and proceed on foot—if necessary—once the blizzard passes.
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The Winter Car Prep CheckList

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How To make An Emergency Car Safety Kit

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  1. Jackie says,

    Very timely remnders. I live in Oklahoma where the weather can change quickly. The biggest road hazard i usually see are the speeders. They can’t wait to lose control and total their car and everything in their path.

  2. Stephen Reiner says,

    I’ve been driving for almost 45 years, being from upstate NY, I became familiar with driving on snow, ice, high winds, fog, driving rain from everything from cars to heavy hauling trucks. I never was in an accident, thankfully. I always let common sense prevail and discovered many times, how to make split second decisions when it was necessary. Bottom iine slow down, be aware of everything around you and if you find yourself in a situation where you feel as though you’ve lost control of the vehicle, maintain your composure. Because your chance of the seemingly inevitable is going to happen, it most likely will. I know that luck has spared me at times, but I never lost my composure. I think a 60s high performance muscle car is a good example of hiw quickly the rear end can break loose and you go skidding sideways for almost a quarter of a mile is something that few of us would want to experience, but I have. So, in conclusion, slow down, have a car that is maintained well and always be aware of how the car feels when you are driving it.

  3. Paul gibault says,

    I live in Central Florida and I have to agree with Wayne about the driving it sure beats north central Wisconsin ??☀️☀️

  4. Glendon j walker says,

    Your safety concerned to your costomer’s is valuable when ti comes on to safety on the roads during bad weather, I was once a school bus driver for seventeen years in New Jersey with or without students on board and I know about driving in these weather condictions. But now I am in Kissimmee Florida it’s make my life easier how to once again drive a school bus and my own car with ease.
    THANK YOU for the safety comment I am really proud of you and has been in business with you for fifteen years now from New Jersey to Florida.

  5. Boriana DiMonte says,

    I m a daughter of a pilot who thought me how to drive diffidence style as well as how to understand my surroundings , the engine and how to respond including in all different weather conditions .
    this reading by Geico is amazing as i was able to send in email to my daughter whom had less exposure then me in my farther’s teachings and made me feel good .

    thank you Geico , FEMA , NOAA, and everyone who took the time to educate the public in prevention .