Some ways in which wildfires impair drivers

Wildfires pose direct and indirect dangers to drivers. A direct danger could be limited visibility, with distracted driving coming indirectly.

States such as Oregon and Washington are known for having to battle wildfires. For example, firefighting aircraft and hot ash prompted the Coast Guard to make a 20-mile stretch of the Columbia River off-limits to traffic one Tuesday in September 2017.

There, too, is an impact on the health and safety of the public. An Oregon preparedness document recommends, among other things, that people keep their windows and doors closed, wear N95 masks and restrict their time outdoors when possible. Drivers are recommended to keep their car windows shut, but this guideline is far from the only way in which wildfires can affect drivers.

Visibility

For one thing, there is visibility. Roads and surroundings become harder to see when smoke and ash come into play. Furthermore, if lights such as headlights are already dirty, visibility can become further compromised.

Drivers trying to make themselves more visible to others may mistakenly think that it is a good idea to turn on their high beams. Instead, low-beam headlights are preferable and less distracting than high beams.

Evacuating

Another issue can arise when people who do not normally drive must evacuate (or decide to evacuate). For example, suppose that an 85-year-old couple rarely drives due to their age but decides that they should evacuate due to encroaching wildfires. They may not realize just how bad conditions such as visibility are, and they may pose an increased risk to themselves as well as to others on the road.

When a lot of people must evacuate at once, that can also lead to frustration and stress that further impair driving. It can also lead to increased episodes of distracted driving. As an example, the driver of a car may be consulting his cellphone often to check on fire reports, while the driver in the car behind him may be trying to reassure her children that the house will be okay. She keeps turning to look at them in the back seat, taking her eyes off the road.

Then there are some people who treat the smoke and ash as little more than a trifling matter. They may keep up their same unsafe daily driving habits, speeding as usual and driving after drinking several beers.

Proactive behavior can go a long way toward mitigating many of the risks that wildfires pose toward Oregon and Washington drivers. For example, driving at a safe speed limit, choosing certain routes carefully and carrying a first aid kit and map in the car can be helpful. If a car crash does occur and someone is injured, a lawyer may be able to help with the process of seeking compensation.