Tom Corbett, Governor Barry J. Schoch, P.E., Secretary, Department of Transportation

Emergency Driving Tactics and Tips

If Your Vehicle Has Brake Failure

If You Have A Tire Blow Out

Steering Out Of An Emergency

Braking Suddenly

If Your Accelerator Sticks

If you are like most drivers, you may not have the chance to practice how you would react in an emergency situation before it happens. But, knowing what to do in unexpected driving situations can make a difference. Taking the wrong action or no action when something goes wrong can increase your chances of crashing your vehicle.

If Your Vehicle Has Brake Failure

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In newer vehicles, a split braking system reduces the possibility of total brake failure. If your brake system warning light comes on, you may still have braking in two of the four wheels, probably one front wheel and one rear wheel. This will allow you to pull over to the side of the road or into the next service station. You may feel the brake pedal go down farther than usual before the vehicle begins to slow, and you may need to push harder on the pedal. Your stopping distance may be increased, so be aware of where your vehicle is headed. If your brakes fail:

  • Shift to low gear, and look for a place to slow to a stop.
  • Pump the brake pedal quickly several times. This may build up enough brake pressure to stop the vehicle.
  • If pumping the brake pedal does not work, slowly apply the parking (emergency) brake. If the rear wheels lock and you begin to skid, let off the parking brake slowly until you no longer feel the vehicle skidding.
  • Keep your eyes focused on where you are going, and look for a safe place to pull off of the road. Look for an open place to steer into, or steer into an uphill road.
  • If the vehicle still will not stop and you are in danger of crashing, turn your ignition “OFF” as a last resort. Do not turn it to the “LOCK” position because this will also lock your steering.

After you have stopped your vehicle, call for help. Do not try to drive.

If You Have A Tire Blow Out

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Sometimes thumping noises start before a tire blows out, but you usually will not know ahead of time when a tire will blow. You should protect against blowouts by keeping your tires in good condition and properly inflated. When a front tire blows out, your steering wheel may vibrate, and you may feel the vehicle suddenly pull to one side. When a rear tire blows out, one corner of the vehicle may drop suddenly, and you may feel the rear of the vehicle wobble back and forth. If one of your tires blows out, do the following:

  • Hold the steering wheel tightly.
  • Stay off of your brake! Braking after a blowout may cause you to skid and lose control of your vehicle.
  • Slowly take your foot off the gas pedal.
  • Steer where you want to go, but steer smoothly - do not make large or jerky steering actions.

If you have to use your brakes, press them gently. If possible, let the vehicle slow to a stop. Make sure it is off the road and you are far enough from traffic lanes to safely change the tire.

Steering Out Of An Emergency

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When you have a choice of either braking or steering to avoid a crash, it is usually better if you can steer to avoid the hazard than to brake, particularly at speeds above 25 mph. This is because your reaction time to swerve is faster than your reaction time to brake. But, you must have good steering skills to keep control of your vehicle in an emergency. As a general rule, you should be holding the steering wheel with both hands. This is especially important in emergencies because evasive steering often requires you to turn the steering wheel quickly at least one-half turn in one direction, and then turn the wheel back almost a full circle in the opposite direction, once you clear the object. You then return to center steering to continue moving in your original direction of travel. At higher speeds, less steering input is needed to move your vehicle to the left or right. If you think of the steering wheel as a clock face, your hands should hold the wheel at either the 9 and 3 o’clock position or the 8 and 4 o’clock position, whichever is the most comfortable. Keep your thumbs along the face of the steering wheel instead of gripping the inside of the rim. By keeping your hands in this position on the wheel:

  • You will be less likely to overcorrect during an emergency steering maneuver, which could cause you to spin out of control or run off the road.
  • It is less likely the air bag will throw your arms and hands back into your face if you are involved in a crash.
  • Your arms will be more comfortable and less fatigued during long drives. A 10 and 2 o’clock hand position is acceptable; however, if your air bag deploys, you are at risk of injury.

Braking Suddenly

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If you need to hit your brakes in a hurry, your safety depends on knowing whether your vehicle has conventional or anti-lock brakes (ABS), and how to use them. You should check your owner’s manual to determine what kind of braking system your vehicle has. Do this before you get into an emergency. Knowing how to apply your brakes in an emergency situation may save your life.

  • Without ABS, press and release the brakes repeatedly. Pumping the brakes will slow your vehicle and keep it under control. Slamming on the brakes can lock your wheels, causing your vehicle to skid.
  • With ABS, maintain firm and continuous pressure on the brake. Do not pump the brake pedal. Do not be alarmed by mechanical noises and/or slight pulsations.

If Your Accelerator Sticks

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If the accelerator (gas pedal) sticks, your vehicle may keep going faster and faster. If this happens:

  • Keep your eyes on the road. You can tap the pedal a few times to see if it will spring back to normal, or you may be able to lift it with your toe, but do not reach down to try to free the pedal with your hand.
  • If the pedal remains stuck, shift to neutral immediately and use the brakes. This will cause your engine to race, but the power will be removed from your wheels.
  • Concentrate on steering and pull off the road when you have slowed down to a safe speed. Stop, turn off the engine, and put on your emergency brake and emergency flashers.

NOTE: As a last resort, turn your ignition to “OFF,” if you need to slow or stop quickly. Do not turn it to “LOCK” because you will lose steering ability. Then, apply your brakes. It will require more effort to steer and brake with your ignition off.

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