How to stay safe when driving near a wildfire

Written on behalf of Abramson Smith Waldsmith LLP

Wildfires around the state of California are nothing new. Recent fires have been more widespread and deadlier. The unfortunate fact is, if you are driving around California in the future, you will most likely encounter an area that is burning.

Some of the most dramatic video from the most recent wildfires is from people in cars trying to escape the blaze. If you are on a road or highway with dangerous fires burning around the area, it can put you in an extremely dangerous situation. Here are some things to do if you approach an area where a fire close by while driving.

  • Don’t get distracted – Coming up on a natural disaster may make you want to take a picture or text a friend. Even if you want to use your phone to get information about the fire, remember that California law prohibits using your hands to operate a smartphone while driving. Besides the phone, do not let the actual fires distract you, it is best to keep your eyes on the road.
  • Keep an eye out for emergency vehicles – If you are on a road that is in clear view of wildfires, you are probably on the road where emergency vehicles will be driving.
  • Roll-up your windows – Where there is fire, there will be smoke. Keep the windows up and turn on the “recirculate air” control to keep the outside smoke from coming in.
  • Do not turn on your hazard lights – It is common for people to turn on their hazard lights to signal to other drivers to use caution. However, if you are driving, the hazards should remain off. Hazards should only be used only when stopped. With the prospect of low visibility, you may confuse other drivers if you are moving with your hazards on.
  • Use your headlights – You may have just gone from the brightness of day to a dark smoky area quickly. Turn your headlights on, so you can be seen.
  • Watch out for animals – The fire you see on the side of the road may be causing animals to run across the road.
  • Prepare ahead of time – Even though you may not know you will be driving into a wildfire, you can plan for any type of emergency. Keep an emergency kit, water and food in the car at all times.

Fires will most likely continue to be a problem for the foreseeable future in California. The best way to stay safe when approaching a dangerous situation is to be prepared and use caution while driving near the fires.

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