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Driving During an Earthquake? DON’T Do This

Road Rendered Impassable By Earthquake Damage

Credit: National Park Service (NPS) Photo

Since the Northridge earthquake in 1994, Los Angeles and Southern California have been rather lucky when it comes to significant seismic activity. But that period of relative quiet ended with some fireworks this Fourth of July when a magnitude 6.4 quake rocked communities from Las Vegas to Baja California, with aftershocks continuing into Friday.

What NOT to Do

Most Californians have been taught to Drop, Cover, and Hold On during an earthquake, but those rules go out the window if you are driving during a quake. Before the ground starts shaking and you’re left unsure of what to do, learn what NOT to do if you are driving during an earthquake:

  • Try to Out-Drive the Quake—Spoiler alert: you’re not going to be able to. P Waves can travel up to 14 kilometers PER SECOND, which is JUST a bit faster than whatever vehicle you happen to be in.
  • Get Out and Run—Falling debris, glass, gas leaks, and the moving ground are a recipe for disaster.
  • Drive Over a Bridge—Bridges face a high potential for damage during an earthquake and should be avoided if at all possible, including after the earthquake.

What to Do Instead

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services have partnered together to create a list of recommended protective actions that will reduce injury and damage in the event of an earthquake. If you’re looking to avoid a car accident or “motorcycle accident, you should:
 

  • Pull over to the side of the road, away from bridges, overpasses, power lines, and other hazards.
  • Set your parking brake and turn your vehicle off.
  • Remain in your car until the shaking stops, then proceed carefully.

 
In the wake of the Ridgecrest quake—and with the Big One still sure to hit California someday—planning for an earthquake has never been more important than it is now. For more information about earthquake safety and help with emergency planning, review FEMA’s Earthquake Safety Checklist.

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