How to Survive an Earthquake in Your Car

You don’t know where you will be when an earthquake strikes and if you live in an earthquake-prone region of the world, chances are high that you might just be in your car at the time it occurs. In this article, you’ll learn what to do should you experience an earthquake while you’re in your car.

Recognize that you are in an earthquake situation. An earthquake while driving sometimes feels like there is something wrong with your car. Use your senses. Look around. You will feel the earth jolting and shaking, and begin to see things falling or cracks opening.

Move to the side of the road. Do this as quickly as possible but keep your mind totally focused on safety. It is likely you won’t be the only person on the road, so keep an eye out for traffic and be aware that some drivers may panic.

  • As best you can, avoid pulling up under bridges, overpasses, signs, building overhangs, power lines, trees, or any other hazards that might fall onto your car. Avoid parking next to buildings. The car offers very little protection should heavy objects fall on it.
  • If in a parkade, exit the car and crouch down low and close to the side of the car to use it as protection – do not get under the car as it will take the impact of any large falling debris such as concrete.

Turn off the engine and put your handbrake on.

Turn on the radio and listen for updates, warnings, and advice. Stay calm.

Stay in your vehicle until the shaking stops.

Get out of your vehicle once the shaking has stopped. See “Warnings” below for what to do if a power line has fallen on your car. If you have emergency supplies inside your car, find them. The ideal items to keep in a car are listed under “Things You’ll Need” below. Assess the damage to your car and in the immediate vicinity to see whether it is safe to proceed.

    • Check to see that the passengers are all right. Expect some shock or panic and do your best to reassure such persons.
    • Attend to any injuries using first aid.
    • The fire department and other emergency services will be dealing with their own issues. You, and those around you, need to work together. DO NOT phone 911 and needlessly overload circuits.
  1. Proceed home or to a safety shelter if possible, and drive very cautiously. Provided it is safe, rendezvous wherever it is safest and most convenient to do so. Remember that it may be safer to stay where you are, especially if there is chaos on the roads. Use your phone to call people and let them know you’re alright. However, remember cell phone towers may be damaged. Listen to the local radio station for warnings and updates as you drive or walk.

  • Do not ever drive through flood waters.
  • Do not drive over large cracks in the road. You risk becoming stuck.
  • Do not drive under bridges that have cracks and other visible structural damage. Even without visible damage, be wary of all overhanging objects, bridges, signs, walls, and overpasses.
  • Be wary of the potential for landslides onto the road.
  • If you’re driving along a coastal road in an area known as a potential tsunami zone, drive to higher ground as quickly as possible.

Expect aftershocks. The main quake will be followed by aftershocks which can easily dislodge damaged buildings and other structures that haven’t already fallen apart.

  • If you have internet access on your mobile phone, check traffic cameras to see how roads are in your area. Remember that the internet might not work though, and that traffic cameras may have lost power.
  • Having knowledge of basic first aid is important when living in earthquake regions.
  • Rely on the radio.
  • Be aware that your car alarm may go off as a result of the shaking.


  • If a power line falls on your car, stay inside. A trained professional will need to remove the pole to minimize the chance that you might be electrocuted. Equally, do not attempt to touch or get into a vehicle that has fallen power lines on it.
  • When power lines go down, mobile phone/cell phone transmitters have only several hours of power to run the transmitters on, power that is drained quickly when everyone gets on the phones to check loved ones. Keep calls short to check whereabouts of family and friends and to make rendezvous arrangements.

Things You’ll Need

Consider that bridges may fall; roads may crack and become impassable. You may be forced to abandon your car. And we know you will want to get home, day or night. The following car supplies are recommended as a permanent on-board kit:

    • Backpack – so items can be easily carried
    • Flashlight (torch) with working batteries
    • Water bottles with water (stainless steel preferred)
    • Snack or energy food / bars
    • Good walking shoes (if you usually have work shoes on)
    • Emergency blanket
    • First aid kit
    • Crank radio
    • Gloves/Hat (remember it could be winter)
    • Hand warmers
    • Waterproof matches
    • Multi-tool compact knife
    • Rain poncho
    • Lightsticks
    • Safety reflective strip
    • Whistle (to attract attention if needed)
    • Personal medications
    • Other personal items such as: toilet paper, tooth brush, tooth paste, tampons, small bills/coins, identification…

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