How to Handle a Vehicle Emergency

Handling Vehicle Emergencies

Tire Failure

In 2003, 78,392 crashes occurred as a result of tire failure, which led to 414 fatalities and 10,275 injuries (NHTSA, 2012). These statistics are pretty severe, but it’s possible that the drivers simply weren’t aware of the best practices and procedures to effectively and safely respond to the situation.

If you experience a flat tire or blowout, you shouldn’t immediately try to use your brakes. Instead, you should focus on steering and slow down gradually. You should only begin to use your brakes when you have full control of the car, then, pull off of onto the right shoulder safely and make sure the entire car is clear of the highway. The best way to avoid tire failure is to check your tires monthly for tread-wear indications and proper inflation. Some research shows that drivers that demonstrate aggressive driving behaviors such as speeding, weaving through traffic, frequent lane changes, and accelerating or stopping suddenly can actually expedite tire wear or failure. Doesn’t that sound like karma?

Brake Failure

Tire failure is one thing, but brake failure is something else entirely. While both of these are unpleasant events, it’s scary to realize that 25% of crashes that occur as a result of vehicle-related emergencies are associated with brake failure (NHTSA, 2008).
In order to understand the best way to respond to this vehicle emergency, you should understand what type of brakes your car uses. If you turn the ignition key on in your car and you see a yellow illuminated ABS or “Anti-lock” logo, then you have an anti-lock braking system. If you’re not sure if you have this, you can refer to your owner’s manual for more information. It is very important to know whether your car uses ABS or not.

If you’re driving and you experience brake failure, try and stay calm. Panicking will not help you resolve the situation safely. If your car has anti-lock brakes, simply press hard on the pedal. It could take several seconds for your car to begin braking, so do not be alarmed. The anti-lock brake system pumps your brakes for you, remember? While braking, you may experience a heavy pulse coming from the pedal. Keep in mind that this is normal with anti-lock brakes.

On the other hand, if your car does not have anti-lock brakes then you should begin by pumping the brake pedal hard and fast. Regardless of whether you have anti-lock brakes or not, the next step is to shift to a lower gear. Do you remember the other brake that your car has? If you don’t, you should give it some attention! The parking brakes will absolutely come in handy in this situation. After you shift to a lower gear, you should apply the parking brake slowly and hold down the release lever or button to prevent your vehicle’s rear wheels from locking (which could make your car skid). At this point, you should gently move your car’s tires on the curb to slow down and pull off of the road into an open space.

Steering, Transmission and Engine Failure

When you experience a vehicle malfunction, it can really ruin your day. But when you understand how to respond while you’re in crisis-mode, you will become a safer driver. In 2008, approximately 10% of vehicle-related emergency crashes were a result of steering, transmission or engine failure (NHTSA, 2008). Luckily, you will soon understand how to respond to this unfortunate situation without getting in an accident. If you suddenly lose power steering, the wheel will become extremely difficult to turn which can be a startling experience. If this happens, you must maintain a firm grip on the wheel and use all of your strength to turn it. As soon as you have the chance, you should pull onto the side of the road and turn on your hazard lights.

girl with car breakdown

Similarly, if your car stalls or breaks down, ease your vehicle onto the side of the road and park it where it can be seen from 200 feet in any direction. You should keep your car out of the traffic lanes, turn on your hazard lights and have passengers move as far as they can away from traffic. You can make your car more noticeable by raising your hood and tying a white cloth on the left door handle or antenna. This will give other drivers more time to identify the situation and react accordingly.


Tire-Related Factors in the Pre-Crash Phase“. NHTSA. 2012.
National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey“. NHTSA. 2008.


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