ITD offers tips for drivers who encounter dust storms

Blowing dust carried by gale-force winds created blinding conditions for motorists on Interstate 86 west of Pocatello April 14. The interstate was closed in both directions for more than 5 ½ hours because of near zero visibility.

When the dust settled, nearly two-dozen vehicles were damaged and nine people were transported to hospitals for medical treatment, but there were no fatalities.

Almost exactly a year earlier, on April 11, 2012, 18 vehicles crashed on I-84, between Rupert and American Falls because of blinding, blowing dust.

Rural Idaho highways that cut through arid land or next to open fields are vulnerable to blowing dust in the spring and blinding snowstorms in the winter. Reduced visibility, whether the result of dust, snow or fog, requires extreme caution to ensure the safety of vehicle occupants and other motorists.

ITD joins the Idaho State Police in encouraging drivers to use extreme caution when encountering high winds and low visibility. Taking the following precautions can help reduce the risks of crashes and injuries:

  • Before traveling on rural highways that have a history of blowing dust and snow, check the 511 Traveler Information system. Call 5-1-1 or visit on the web to learn of prevailing conditions or forecasts that predict high winds

  • The risk of high winds is greater in the morning and evening. If possible, avoid travel during those times in areas that are susceptible to blowing dust or snow.

  • Do not attempt to drive into or through a dust storm.

  • If you encounter a dust storm, check for other vehicles in front, behind or next to your vehicle and begin slowing down.

  • Do not wait until visibility becomes so poor that you can’t turn around to wait out the storm at a safe location. Take the first exit or pull off the highway until conditions improve.

  • Do not stop in a travel lane or emergency lane. If the highway shoulder is relatively flat, pull completely off the paved surface. Try to leave an adequate buffer between your vehicle and the highway.

  • Remain in your vehicle and ensure that all occupants have their seatbelts fastened. The safest place to be if your car is struck by another vehicle is inside your own.

  • Set your vehicle’s parking brake and take your foot off the brake.

  • Turn off all vehicle lights, including your emergency flashers. Drivers behind you might become disoriented and follow your taillights, believing you are still on the highway.

  • If you have cell phone coverage, call 9-1-1 after stopping, to report your location as precisely as possible and advise of low visibility hazards.

  • Drivers of high-profile vehicles such as vans, recreational vehicles, large SUVs and towed trailers face the additional challenge of maintaining control in high winds, If possible, pull off the highway at a safe location to wait for winds to subside.

Published 4-26-13