Caught in the Quake: What To Do If You Are Driving When an Earthquake Strikes

Turns out, you can’t race an earthquake – here’s what to do instead of trying to speed off


After three earthquakes in two weeks, it’s natural that Los Angeles feels a bit, well, shaken. There’s no way to prevent an earthquake, but there are many things you can do to stay prepared. We are all familiar with the basics – indoors? Find a doorframe. In an office? Duck under a desk. In your bed? Code monster-in-the-closet: hide under your pillows and wait it out. But what do you do if tremors find you on the 405? We consulted FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to find out what to do if you’re driving during an earthquake:

1. Pull over to a shoulder as quickly as possible. Avoid stopping under trees, overpasses, and buildings – i.e. things that can fall on you. If you’re driving on an overpass, continue to solid ground.

2. Turn off your car and use the parking break. Cover your head with your arms and wait out the shaking.

3. Once it’s over, drive cautiously. Aftershocks are unpredictable in size and timing (the L.A. Times reported that last Friday’s quake caused hundreds of mini-shocks), so don’t dilly dally to your destination, but be prepared to stop again if there is another noticeably big shake.

4. Anticipate traffic light outages. Treat intersections like they have four-way stop signs. Watch out for visible bridge and overpass damage.

What if …
… Debris falls on my car? Stay parked until professionals can assist you – you are at risk of being electrocuted by fallen power lines. Cover your mouth, and if you think your car is hidden, lay on that horn.

… I am right by the coast? Listen to the radio for announcements about tsunami evacuation and which routes to take.

… The earth opens up and swallows me whole? Luckily, these kinds of earthquakes only happen in cartoons and the Bible. What you’re probably thinking of is a sinkhole, which is caused by underground erosion, not by an earthquake.

Remember to keep a fully stocked first aid kit and at least a gallon of water in your trunk. For more information, check out FEMA’s Earthquake Safety Checklist.

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