What To Do For Other Road Problems

Plenty of people have minor incidents — like running over the mailbox while backing out of the driveway. Somewhere between hitting mailboxes and hitting other cars are common problems like blowouts and breakdowns.

Flat Tires

Getting a flat tire while you’re driving can be jarring — literally. To prevent this, make sure your tires aren’t too old and check your tire pressure at least once a month.

If you do find yourself in a blowout situation, here are a few suggestions to get you through it safely:

  • Don’t panic and stay off the brake. Sudden braking could cause a skid. Look ahead and hold the steering wheel with a firm grip. Slow down gradually by taking your foot off the accelerator. Try to steer the vehicle to the side of the road safely. Let the vehicle slow down before applying the brakes with gentle pressure. Bring the vehicle to rest on the side of the roadway, shoulder, or parking lot.
  • Set up your breakdown site. Once safely off the road and out of the line of traffic, turn on your emergency flashers to alert other drivers of your situation. Set up your warning signs (cones, triangles, or flares) behind your vehicle so others realize your car is disabled. If you know how to change your tire and can do it safely without getting too close to traffic, do it, or call your auto club for help.
  • Get help if you need it. Automobile clubs will come to help 24/7, 365 days a year — many people become members to get this kind of emergency assistance. Ask your parents if your family belongs to an automobile club and, if you do, get a membership card. Use a cell phone or highway emergency phone to call for help. While you’re waiting, raise the hood of your car and hang a white T-shirt or rag out the window or off the radio antenna so that police officers will know you need help. For safety reasons, don’t try to flag down other drivers. Only walk along a multi-lane highway if you can see a business or someone who can help you nearby.
  • Don’t walk in or get near traffic.
  • After it’s done. Take your vehicle to the shop so a mechanic can look it over for any damage.


If your vehicle breaks down, safely bring it to a stop and out of the line of traffic — as far off the roadway as possible. Set up your breakdown site out of traffic. A major difference between flat tires and breakdowns is that it’s less likely that you will be able to fix a car that has broken down.

Note your vehicle’s location.

If you encounter a problem while driving, make sure you are aware of your surroundings and general location. Know where you are in relation to a major exit or cross street. Look for well-lighted areas. Notice landmarks such as service stations, restaurants, shopping centers and business complexes. If you are on an interstate highway, note the mile marker, last exit number or nearest emergency call box or rest area. You may need this information when summoning assistance.

Assess your vehicle’s operating problem.

While driving, be aware of and know how to respond to warning signs such as steering problems or steam or smoke coming from under the hood. Also listen for any unusual noises. If it’s a flat tire, the first rule is not to panic. Signal, slow down gradually and carefully pull onto the shoulder of the road, avoiding any sudden maneuvers. If you run out of gas or your engine stops, switch on emergency/safety flashers, carefully steer your vehicle out of traffic and let its momentum get you off the road to a safe place. Avoid applying the brakes until necessary.

Pull off the road.

On most roads, you should exit onto the far-right shoulder, as far off the road as possible while remaining on level ground. If you are driving on an interstate or multiple-lane highway with medians, you may consider the left shoulder, again pulling as far away from traffic as possible.  If you get out of your vehicle, proceed carefully and watch for oncoming traffic, especially at night or in bad weather, when visibility is limited. Never stand behind or directly in front of your vehicle. Other roadway users may have trouble seeing you, and you could be struck by another vehicle.

What if you CANNOT pull off the road?

If your vehicle loses power and is inoperable, switch on safety/emergency flashers. Do not risk personal injury by attempting to push it to a safe location. If you cannot get your vehicle to a location away from traffic, or if you are uncertain about your safety and think your vehicle may get struck from behind, do not stay in your vehicle. Be careful of traffic coming both ways.

Alert other motorists Turn on your emergency flashers.

Make sure your vehicle is visible to other motorists. Remember they may be traveling at a high rate of speed and must be able to see your vehicle from a great distance to stop or move to another lane. Turn on the emergency flashers, especially at night or during inclement weather.  Raise your vehicle’s hood.

If you have a brightly colored handkerchief or scarf, tie it to the antenna or door handle, or hold it in place by closing it in a window.

If you have some place flares or warning triangles to direct oncoming traffic away from your vehicle. If you are experiencing a fuel leak or smell fuel fumes, do not ignite flares or use anything with a flame. Extinguish any lit cigarettes. As a rule of thumb, place the first flare or triangle 10 feet directly behind the side of the vehicle closest to the road. Place the second 100 feet directly behind the vehicle, lining it up with the middle of the bumper. Position the third device behind the vehicle’s right side — 100 feet if on an undivided highway, 300 feet if on a divided highway. When doing so, always watch for oncoming traffic.

Communicate your situation.

Once you and any passengers are in a safe location, you can notify others of your vehicle breakdown. Make note of surroundings and landmarks, buildings or road signs.  If you have a cell phone, immediately use it to call for help. Make the call from inside your vehicle if you are safely out of traffic. Otherwise, do so at a safe distance from the vehicle and roadway.

Remain with your vehicle.

Safety experts agree that under most circumstances if you are able to pull away from traffic, it is safest to remain in your vehicle until a law enforcement officer or road service provider arrives. Always be mindful of your surroundings. At night, carry a flashlight.

In some circumstances, when there is no other alternative, you may need to rely on the help of a friendly motorist or passerby. Should this be your only alternative to get help, ask for identification including name, phone number and address before accepting assistance. Write this information down and leave it with another person, or in the vehicle, explaining where you are going, when you expect to return and what you hope to accomplish. It is best to have them call for roadside assistance instead of going with them.

If you choose to exit the vehicle, do so safely and well away from oncoming traffic and your vehicle. If possible, you and any passengers should exit through the side of the vehicle facing away from the road. In most cases, the passenger side of the vehicle allows for greater distance from oncoming traffic.

If you determine help is within walking distance, think about whether it’s safe to leave your vehicle or passengers for a short period of time. Assess traffic conditions and ensure that your contemplated route is safe for pedestrians. If you leave your vehicle, place a note on the dashboard listing where you are going for help and the time you left.

If you choose to stay inside your vehicle, keep the windows almost closed and the doors locked. It’s very dangerous to lower your windows or open your vehicle doors to strangers. If a stranger does stop to offer help, ask the person to call for emergency road service.

If you are threatened or harassed while waiting in your car, honk the horn repeatedly and flash the lights to attract attention.

Don’t leave the engine on for extended periods to heat or cool the vehicle. You could put yourself and any passengers at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Take your vehicle to be repaired and serviced.

Make sure you get your car checked out by a qualified mechanic that can make sure your car will be running well and safely so you won’t come to a breakdown situation again.

If you are trapped in your car during a snowstorm

  • Stay in the vehicle!
    • If you leave your vehicle, you will become disoriented quickly in wind-driven snow and cold.
    • Run the motor about 10 minutes each hour for heat.
    • While running the motor, open the window a little for fresh air to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
    • Clear snow from the exhaust pipe to avoid gas poisoning.
  • Be visible to rescuers.
    • Turn on the dome light at night when running the engine.
    • Tie a bright colored cloth, preferably red, to your antenna or door.
    • After snow stops falling, raise the hood to indicate you need help.