“It’s especially difficult on highways. If there’s no exit, the only option is the emergency lane – but then only with the hazard lights and dipped headlights switched on.” In denser traffic, severe weather will cause a traffic jam on highways anyway. “On the other hand, simply stopping the vehicle beneath bridges is a dangerous habit, regardless of the type of road,” says the accident researcher. “The exception is, at most, motorcyclists who get themselves to safety on the far right edge of the road.”
Special hazards during storms: Caution is advised
During storms, forests and trees by the roadside are especially hazardous. Branches or entire trees could fall onto the road. On bridges, the wind hits vehicles unchecked from the side and with great force. Vehicles with a large surface area exposed to the wind are at risk, such as trucks, motor homes or caravans, SUVs, and vehicles with roof boxes. “In addition to bridges, exits from tunnels or when overtaking large vehicles can also be risky because the crosswind conditions change abruptly,” warns Egelhaaf. Motorcyclists are more at risk during squalls because, on two wheels, they are more susceptible to crosswinds. In addition, fluttering clothing, tank bags, or top cases are also unfavorably noticeable because they increase the surface area.
Heavy rain and hail: Avoid underpasses and depressions
In heavy rain or hail, try to avoid depressions and underpasses, where flooding can happen quickly. For example, water pushing up from sewer systems, drains clogged by leaves and mud, or streams that turn into raging torrents. “If a road is under water, driving through it is dangerous even if the water level is supposedly low, because you never know what the surface is like,” says the accident researcher.
Mud can reduce the grip of tires to the point where a vehicle will start to slide in low flow or even where there’s no flow. If manhole covers are washed out, open manholes hidden by the water can bring an abrupt end to a trip, even for vehicles with large wheels. Even if there are no such hazards, the overall height of the vehicle and the height at which the engine draws in air quickly set limits: The car might start to float or the engine might suck in water. If the vehicle is stuck in water, unable to maneuver, the occupants should get to safety as quickly as possible. “Depending on the situation, this will mean either getting to shore or onto the roof of the vehicle. In the second case, call 112 for help immediately,” says Egelhaaf.
The closed vehicle offers protection during thunderstorms
“A closed vehicle forms a Faraday cage,” says Egelhaaf. “If lightning strikes, the electrical energy is dissipated through the bodywork on the outside. The occupants are protected.” This is also true in modern convertibles with the roof closed, because the roll bar and the mechanics of the top are made of metal. In motor homes and caravans, on the other hand, protection is not necessarily provided if the outer shell is made exclusively of GRP (glass fiber reinforced polyester). In any case, no one is allowed to be inside a moving caravan.