By Dallas Hammit / ADOT State Engineer
Over the decades, technology sure has changed but the weather-related issues facing Arizona drivers haven’t.
Back in 1973, the Arizona Highway Department launched a dust warning system that included 40 changeable message signs along 81 miles of Interstates 8 and 10 near Casa Grande. The signs were designed to display two different messages warning drivers of wind or dust. According to agency bulletins from that time, the messages were changed by DPS dispatchers in Phoenix using radio signals. Later, in 1976, ADOT modified the signs to refer motorists to specific AM radio stations for current advisories.
Today, we’re working on a dust detection and warning system on I-10 near the community of Picacho that will alert drivers to dangerous conditions. It is a little more advanced than what we had in the 1970s but the goal of our efforts remains the same — we want motorists to be aware of the situation ahead so they can make good decisions.
The new system will combine a number of technologies that you can read about on the project’s webpage. But no matter what type of warning system is in place, all drivers need to know that the most important thing they can do is to not drive into a dust storm. Visibility can very quickly drop to zero, putting everyone in a dangerous situation.
If you do encounter a dust storm and you don’t have time to exit the highway, remember these tips:
- Immediately check traffic around your vehicle (front, back and to the side) and begin slowing down.
- Do not wait until poor visibility makes it difficult to safely pull off the roadway — do it as soon as possible. Completely exit the highway if you can.
- Do not stop in a travel lane or in the emergency lane. Look for a safe place to pull completely off the paved portion of the roadway.
- Turn off all vehicle lights, including your emergency flashers. You do not want other vehicles approaching from behind to use your lights as a guide, possibly crashing into your parked vehicle.
- Set your emergency brake and take your foot off the brake.
- Stay in the vehicle with your seatbelts buckled and wait for the storm to pass.
Find more information online at pullasidestayalive.org and focusondriving.com/dust-storms.
Editor's Note: More safety messages from Dallas Hammit, ADOT's state engineer and deputy director for transportation, are available at Driving Safety Home on azdot.gov.