by: Matthew Young
A number of mishaps can occur on the road at any given time. When driving, as little as one second can mean the difference between serious damage or even injury to yourself and another motorist. Learn what it means to react in the space of a second. Know what to do, not just immediately but instinctively. Here are a few safety-minded tips and driving guidelines to help you prepare for the five most common driving emergencies.
1. Running off the Road
This usually happens at the worst possible instant. A large pothole or a degraded section of asphalt can contribute to your car’s veering off the pavement. When this happens, do not try to turn the steering wheel back towards the pavement. Instead:
• Firmly grip the steering wheel and keep it stationary while taking your foot off the gas pedal.
• Push down on the brake pedal gradually and not too swiftly — any attempt to pump them quickly or lock them may send the car into a skid.
• When the car has slowed or stopped, turn the wheel in the direction of the shoulder and put on your signal.
• When there’s a clearing in cross traffic, drive slowly back onto the pavement.
A skid is the loss of contact between the tires and the road. Contrary to popular belief, the rear wheels are what cause the skidding, while the front wheels are unwilling accomplices. To recapture traction, steer in the direction you were already headed, or in the direction the rear wheels are skidding. Here’s a checklist:
• Let up on the gas immediately.
• Steer in the general direction of the skid pattern.
• If the car has ABS — an antilock braking system — don’t pump the brakes. Instead, push the brake pedal firmly to the floor and keep it there. This motion activates the ABS and essentially pumps the brakes for you. When you hear a rhythmic click and sense an opposing force — as if the pedal wants to push its way upward — you’ll know the ABS is active. Both signs are normal.
3. Tire Blowout
A tire blowout happens either of two ways: gradually or instantaneously. The difference in the level of the car will change. You may even hear the tire go out. The main way to avoid blowout — which happens because the integrity of the wall of the tire has been compromised — is to keep the tires properly inflated. Inadequate inflation stresses the wall of the tire. An overinflated tire negotiates a pothole by overcompensating with a big bounce. If a tire blows out or goes flat, do the following:
• Keep control of your car with a firm grip on the wheel.
• Let up on the gas pedal and coast onto the shoulder or a part of the road — don’t forget to signal — free of traffic.
• Brake smoothly because you don’t know how damaged the tire already is.
• Stop once you’ve straightened out — stay parallel with the road.
• Call roadside assistance or if you have the tools and know-how, change the tire. Only change the tire on level ground, not an incline. Make sure the parking brake is set and use wheel stops if you have them — stones work, too.
4. Brake Failure
Brake failure is perhaps one of the scariest things that can happen on the road. Sometimes it means a faulty or broken brake line. Or it could mean you neglected to get your brakes serviced. Either way, remain calm, keep a clear head and follow these steps:
• If your auto has disc brakes, pump them to force fluid through the lines and build up sufficient pressure.
• If you auto has antilock brakes (ABS), push the brake pedal to the floor and firmly keep your foot on it — don’t pump!
• If you don’t begin to slow, try shifting to the next lowest gear.
• Slowly push in the parking brake. If you do it too quickly, you’ll make your tires lock up.
• After you come to a complete stop, activate your emergency flashers and turn your tires in towards the curb or rail. Turn the ignition off last. Call the tow truck.
5. Engine Failure
Sometimes your car’s engine will have difficulty running or simply stop working. If your car stalls or your engine dies while driving, do the following safely and quickly to remove yourself and other drivers from harm’s way:
• If you have enough momentum and the lanes are clear, signal and begin steering towards the shoulder. If visibility is an issue, activate the emergency flashers.
• If momentum is reduced or the car was stationary, set the gear in neutral, activate the flashers and begin pushing the car over. Another driver will almost always jump in to assist.
• If this occurs at night, keep the headlights on.
• Call roadside assistance and wait inside with the doors locked, especially in a remote area.
• If you need to get out to speak to the tow truck driver or a CHP officer, exit via the passenger side in order to avoid oncoming traffic.
Safety Tools for the Road
Since the overall theme of this entry is roadside preparedness, we would be remiss to not mention a couple important tools. A roadside kit should be in every car — one with flares, a small socket battery wrench, bandages, batteries, and so on — but two things must be addressed. If the car door doesn’t open, you need to break the window. If the seatbelt clip won’t unlatch, you need to cut the belt. Any good-sized hammer can perform the latter, but a product like the resqme® does both. About the size of a key remote and just 2.93 inches long, this lightweight escape tool sports a powerful steel spike that breaks glass with minimal effort. The opposite end features a razor edge enclosed with a curve to cut seatbelts. With both the knowledge and the tools to deal with any kind of roadside emergency, driving will be a much safer experience.
Matthew Young is an automotive reporter from Boston. As a freelance journalist with a passion for vehicles Matthew writes about everything on 4 wheels, be it race cars, SUVs, vintage cars, you name it. When he is not at his desk writing he can be usually found helping his dad in the garage. You can reach Matthew @mattbeardyoung.