The clouds rolling over the prairie over these most unpleasant few days have been brown instead of the usual grey. Filled with roiling dirt from dry soil, strong winds have sand blasted the area, bringing up remembrances of dust bowl years.
Safe driving during dust storms means pulling off of the highway and turning all lights off because the natural inclination of drivers during low visibility is to follow the tail lights.
Low visibility due to blowing dust is very dangerous for highway travelers and was the complicating factor during the three incidents involving 10 vehicle wrecks in Barton County on April 29, 2014.
Unfortunately, after the drought of the last few years, low visibility due to blowing walls of dust, may need to be a consideration for highway travelers, and the decisions the driver makes can save lives.
National Weather Service
The National Weather Service website offers these safety tips for motorists. They are:
•If dense dust is observed blowing across or approaching a roadway, pull the vehicle off the pavement as far as possible, stop, turn off lights, set the emergency brake, and take your foot off of the brake pedal to be sure the tail lights are not illuminated.
•Don’t enter the dust storm area if you can avoid it.
•If you can’t pull off the roadway, proceed at a speed suitable for visibility, turn on lights and sound horn occasionally. Use the painted center line to help guide you. Look for a safe place to pull off the roadway.
•Never stop on the traveled portion of the roadway.
“ In the past, motorists driving in dust storms have pulled off the roadway, leaving lights on,” according to the website. “Vehicles approaching from the rear and using the advance car’s lights as a guide have inadvertently left the roadway and in some instances collided with the parked vehicle. Make sure all of your lights are off when you park off the roadway.”
States such as Arizona, with large amounts of sand and salt flats suffer from chain reaction wrecks regularly. An Arizona dust storm on Oct. 30, 2013, resulted in the deaths of three people and a 21 car pileup due to zero visibility during a dust storm.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS), which investigated the collisions, encourages drivers to plan their trips safely by studying weather conditions along their route of travel in order to avoid driving through inclement weather.
The Arizona Highway Patrol also recommends pulling off the roadway as far as possible and turn off all the lights in the vehicle. They also recommend remaining in the vehicle with your seatbelt on.
The Kansas Department of Transportation also recommends the above steps to stay safe. According to a recent press release, “a driver’s alertness and safe driving ability is still the number one factor to prevent crashes.”