Summer weather can bring hazardous driving conditions to Phoenix, with dust storms, monsoon-flooded roads and searing temperatures not uncommon, and each presenting a different type of danger, says Bart Graves, spokesman for the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS).
With so many potential weather-related situations, exercising vigilance is critical for drivers to keep themselves and others safe. Here are a few things to look out for:
Tires, belts and hoses can be strained in hot temperatures, according to the DPS. Keeping your car’s vulnerable parts in tip-top shape can help reduce the likelihood of mechanical failure. Plus, you’re less likely to find yourself stranded on the highway.
Drivers should refer to their vehicle’s owner’s manual to determine the recommended maintenance schedule, says the DPS. Tires, meanwhile, require monthly tire pressure and tread checks (don’t forget the spares), according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
High temperatures increase the risk of blowouts as tires build pressure and can overheat more quickly, especially those that aren’t inflated properly, says Grave, who adds that tires with worn treads may carry an elevated risk.
Tire blowouts are particularly risky for motorists, Graves says. Each year, nearly 11,000 tire-related crashes occur nationally, resulting in nearly 200 deaths, according to the NHTSA.
The first sign of a blowout is often a loud boom or sense that your car is pulling to one side, according to the DPS. “People panic when that happens and slam on the brakes,” Graves adds. However, doing so may lead to loss of control and a collision, he adds. DPS recommends lightly pressing on the gas pedal to maintain your car’s existing speed while counter-steering to continue moving as straight as possible.
“Keep the vehicle straight and then, as soon as it’s safe to do so, get off the highway,” Graves says. To stay safe in the event of a breakdown, Graves recommends stocking it with water to stay hydrated and a medical kit for treating minor scrapes until emergency responders arrive.
Phoenix’s summer monsoon season combined with an ongoing drought can give rise to massive dust walls known as haboobs, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). With wind speeds as fast as 60 mph, dust storms can obliterate visibility and make driving dangerous. A haboob, a name derived from Middle Eastern dust storms, can develop when moving thunderstorms push down hot, dry desert air and stir up sand, according to the NOAA.
NOAA reports that haboobs typically happen up to three times each year in Phoenix.
“We always advise drivers to never think they can power their way through [a haboob],” Graves says. The storms typically last anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes or longer, according to the NOAA. Graves adds that motorists should move to the side of the road as soon as it’s safely possible, keeping the engine running with the lights turned off and your foot off the brake to avoid flashing the brake light.
“Sometimes, in these situations, there’s no visibility,” Graves says, adding that drivers often will follow the car ahead of them, guided by its lights. To avoid a collision, Graves recommends turning off all lights so traffic continues to flow past you.
Monsoons can bring strong winds, lightning and heavy rain, which can flood low-lying areas known as washes, according to The Flood Control District of Maricopa County (FCDMC). Cars caught in these flooded areas may be overturned or swept away, sometimes resulting in death, the FCDMC warns.
“Even if the water is not moving, it is impossible to gauge the actual depth of water simply by looking at the water’s surface, or determine if the roadway underneath has been washed away,” the FCDMC notes in a press release.
“Never try to drive through a flooded wash,” Graves says, adding that Arizona has a “Stupid Motorist Law” that wages heavy fines on drivers who need rescuing after driving around barricades to attempt passing through a flooded area. Motorists who encounter flooded roads should turn around or wait until the water recedes, the FCDMC says.