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driving during an earthquake

Here's something we hope you never experience. You're driving along the highway when for some unknown reason you start to lose control of the car. But the tires are fine and everything seems to be working. Earthquake!

We'll shed some light on how to handle this rare but dangerous situation.

The frequency of earthquakes

According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), 4,915 earthquakes occurred in the U.S. in 2011 alone. That's a whole lot of earth shaking.

Earthquake-prone areas

The USGS reports that the following states are the top 10 places in the country most prone to earthquakes:

  1. Alaska
  2. California
  3. Hawaii
  4. Nevada
  5. Washington
  6. Idaho
  7. Wyoming
  8. Montana
  9. Utah
  10. Oregon

Typical road risks posed by an earthquake

The ground itself can shake or crack open, and the aftermath can cause more destruction. Keep an eye out for understandably distracted drivers, stopped cars, collapsing overpasses or bridges, broken gas lines, and downed power lines.

Quick history tidbit: in the 1906 earthquake in Northern California, the Point Reyes Lighthouse (and the peninsula it stood on) moved 18 feet in under a minute. Easy to imagine how the shifting ground can pose extreme, unpredictable danger on the road.

Comprehensive coverage for natural disasters

Comprehensive coverage, which is optional unless required by your loan or leasing agent, can help pay for repairs if your car's damaged because of an earthquake or other natural disaster. If you live in an earthquake-heavy state, comprehensive can be a valuable addition to your car insurance policy.

Earthquake driving tips

The Weather Channel compares driving during earthquakes to driving on 4 flat tires. Yikes.

Here are some driving tips if you find yourself on the road when an earthquake strikes.

  • Slow down until you can safely pull over and stop. If you're on the freeway, take the first exit that's safe and avoid parking near overpasses, big trees, power lines, bridges, and buildings.
  • Stay in your car with your seat belt on until the earthquake is over.
  • Check the radio for updates. Most stations will switch over to emergency broadcasting, which will keep you posted on any area dangers.

Visit the Weather Channel's site for more earthquake tips.

Driving after earthquakes

You can't be too cautious here because you won't know what damage has been done. Keep your eyes peeled for damaged roads, overpasses, and bridges, and stay alert for panicked drivers around you.

If the earthquake knocked the power out, the traffic lights may not work. Treat these situations as 4-way stops and allow right-of-way as you would at a 4-way stop sign.

The ideal earthquake road kit

Stock your car with the following items if you live in an earthquake-prone area:

  • First-aid kit
  • Blankets or sleeping bags
  • A flashlight
  • Hand-held radio (in case your car battery dies)
  • Extra batteries
  • Bottled water or tablets that can purify water
  • Dried or canned food and something to use for opening the cans
  • A portable fire extinguisher
  • Maps — these will come in handy if you need to take a detour after the quake and your smartphone runs out of juice

Driving safely during and after an earthquake

Reading this page is a good start towards handling an earthquake while you're on the road. For more safe-driving info, browse through our safe-driving scenarios.

Related links

Driving during tornadoes, hurricanes, or typhoons
Now that you're a pro at staying safe during an earthquake, check out how to do so during a tornado, hurricane, or typhoon.

Filing an earthquake-damage claim
Esurance customers can file claims online, over the phone, or through their smartphones.

The USGS breaks down earthquakes by state
Head to the source to get more info on the number of earthquakes near you.

More info on the historic Point Reyes Lighthouse
If our history nugget has you intrigued, the National Park Service has more where that came from.