Almost all roadside safety tips boil down to one essential truth, when you are forced to pull over on a major road: stay inside your car. Interstate highways are fast and convenient, but only when your vehicle is capable of keeping up. Once it breaks down it becomes an obstacle and a hazard to other drivers, and if you leave the safety of your vehicle, you run the risk of having a deadly encounter with another car.
Here are some roadside safety tips for those inevitable car troubles on a major highway.
1. Pull Over To The Right
If you suspect that you car is about to stall, or if you suffer a flat tire or even lose a wheel, you should concentrate on pulling your vehicle over to the right side of the road as quickly as possible. Some highways have breakdown lanes on the left, but these should be thought of as a last resort: being that close to the passing lane means exposing you and your automobile to high speed traffic that doesn’t expect you to be stopped. Navigate safely to the far-right shoulder, and then position your car as far from the road surface as you can without ending up in the weeds or a ditch.
2. Stay In Your Car
Once your vehicle is stopped, the absolute safest thing you can do is to stay in your car. Even if you have a jack and a spare tire and want to change your flat, it’s simply not worth leaving the safety of your vehicle most of the time. The far better choice is to call a tow truck or roadside assistance service instead of risking your own life to save some time or money. Interstate highways are packed with drivers who may be distracted, intoxicated or simply not prepared to stop suddenly should they drift over to your side of the shoulder and see you there. Activate your hazard lights, make the call and sit tight until help can arrive.
If the highway you’re on isn’t busy and you are worried that your car isn’t visible enough to oncoming traffic, then you might want to consider doing what you can to improve that situation. If you have a safety triangle, prop it up 20–30 feet behind your car on the shoulder. You could also consider tossing road flares into the lane beside you — from the shoulder, of course. Make sure to enter and exit the vehicle through the passenger side door to avoid, as much as possible, any exposure to traffic, and always face traffic while walking on the shoulder.
It’s also always a good idea to keep your roadside assistance membership current so that you can deal with the unexpected as quickly and safely as possible.
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Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time. I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.