Driving Safely in Windy Conditions | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

Transports Quebec via Wikimedia Commons -- https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Quebec_Wind_Sign.svgWinds gusting up to 70 mph tore through southeastern Virginia on April 13, 2020. The event itself would not normally merit comment from a group of personal injury and wrongful death attorneys based in Virginia Beach. After all, hurricanes, nor’easters and thunderstorms that hit with the force of tornadoes strike our area with some frequency.

But one thing happened that Monday morning that reminded us to remind readers how they can stay safe when gentle breezes rage into deadly gales.


A tractor-trailer nearing the peak of the High Rise Bridge in Chesapeake, VA, wound up hanging off the side of the span. The driver survived, but he needed hospital treatment for injuries after his rig was pushed into a retaining wall, flipped and skidded across the right lane.

According to the Virginian-Pilot, “a large gust of wind” pushed the semi’s empty trailer perpendicular to the tractor. The driver lost control and crashed. Fortunately, no other trucks, cars or motorcycles were involved.

High Winds and High-Profile Vehicles Can Make a Deadly Combination

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) puts “wind speed” second on its list of Weather Impacts on Roads. The agency also notes,

On average, there are over 5,891,000 vehicle crashes each year. Approximately 21 percent of these crashes— nearly 1,235,000—are weather-related. Weather-related crashes are defined as those crashes that occur in adverse weather (i.e., rain, sleet, snow, fog, severe crosswinds, or blowing snow/sand/debris) or on slick pavement (i.e., wet pavement, snowy/slushy pavement, or icy pavement). On average, nearly 5,000 people are killed and over 418,000 people are injured in weather-related crashes each year.

In addition to pushing vehicles out of their lanes and off the road, high winds stir up blinding dust, sand and snow; turn roadside trash into projectiles; and transform rain into sheets through which drivers cannot see.

Large commercial trucks are especially vulnerable to high winds on bridges. Often, the most-effective safety precaution is keeping tractor-trailers off bridges until average wind speeds fall below 30 mph.

All Drivers Must Know What to Do During Wind Storms

Anyone who has driven through a major storm knows that any car or small truck can be as vulnerable to wind gusts as the largest 18-wheeler. A little (unwelcome) experience with navigating a vehicle through high winds is also enough to teach the lesson that the greatest crash risk may not be the force of the moving air itself.

Drivers tend to oversteer when they feel their car or truck moving sideways or being skewed by headwinds. That risky tendency only becomes more prominent when rain or snow have made the roadway slick and rendered brakes unreliable.

There are several ways to stay safe when the wind blows ill. Adopted from the Nevada Department of Transportation’s High Wind Safety Driving Tips, here are seven things drivers can do.

  • Plan ahead. Check the forecast and consider cancelling travel plans or rescheduling your start time if a blizzard, hurricane or tornado is imminent.
  • Keep both hands on the wheel. Steer gently.
  • Slow down. Reducing speed increases stability, improves traction and gives you more time to react.
  • Increase your following distance. Tailgating is never a good idea, but leaving extra space between vehicles during storms prevents crashes when other drivers lose control.
  • Stay away from semis, buses and RVs. Cruising in a large vehicle’s blind spot always raises crash risks. When the wind rages, that danger skyrockets.
  • Watch for debris and downed power lines. Do not drive over cables, and avoid touching anything that is in contacted with a downed power line.
  • Be prepared to pull over and wait out the storm.