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Vehicle driving through smoke

How to Drive Safely in Smoky Conditions

Due to numerous wildfires blazing across California right now, much of the state is covered in a layer of smoke. In regions nearest these fires, the smoke can be thick enough to obscure visibility to a noticeable degree. This is bad news for motorists and commuters who need to drive through the smoke daily to go to work and complete errands.

Do you need to drive through smoke lately due to a California wildfire? Before you head out again, it helps to learn more about safe driving near and through smoke.

Safety Disclaimer

We need to be clear about one thing: You should not attempt to drive through smoke when it is unsafe to do so. If emergency personnel are nearby and directing you to not enter a smoky area, then you should always listen to them and follow their instructions closely. When the smoke in the area is so thick that you can barely see in front of your vehicle, you should turn around and retreat to safety, even without immediate instructions from firefighters and roadcrews.

Safety Tips for Smoky Driving Conditions

Here are a few things to keep in mind when driving near or through smoke:

  • Plan ahead: If you know that you will be driving through a smoky area later, pack extra emergency supplies in your car now. Water and nonperishable foods are a must, but a first-aid kit, road flares, and a radio with extra batteries are also good to have on hand.
  • Windows up: As you approach a smoky area, roll up your windows. You cannot drive safely if you are coughing into your hand the entire time.
  • AC on cycle: Don’t forget to switch your air conditioning system to cycle the air. There should be a little button that shows a car with an arrow in nearly a full circle inside of it. Double-check that this light is on after rolling up your windows.
  • Slow down: You should treat smoky conditions as you would any other form of inclement weather and slow down a bit when driving through it. The general rule is to drop your speed at least 5 miles per hour below the posted speed limit. If the conditions worsen, then you should slow down even more.
  • Headlights on: When the smoke is dense enough to hover on or close to the road, it is time to switch your headlights on. You don’t need to use your high beams or your fog lights, though. Standard headlights should suffice to let approaching cars know you are there and make it easier for traffic behind you to keep track of you.
  • No hazard lights: Your hazard lights should also be kept off unless you have pulled off the side of the road and want to make your car more visible. While your car is in motion, do not use your hazard lights. If you do, it could trick approaching vehicles into thinking your car has come to a stop in the middle of the road, which might cause a car accident.
  • Stop driving: Once again, if visibility due to smoke cover drops so much that it is not safe to keep driving, then you should find a safe spot to turn around and head out of the fire. Look for emergency personnel for further directions.

From all of us at the Law Offices of J.Chrisp in Santa Rosa, Clearlake, and San Francisco, we wish you and your family safe travels while so many wildfires burn in the region. Pay attention to emergency personnel and road signs. Postpone any trips you can take another time when visibility and air quality are better. If you need legal help after getting into a crash due to another driver who was not driving carefully through smoke, then we encourage you to call us at (707) 549-8166 at your first opportunity.

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