Roadside Safety: What to Do If You Have a Breakdown

Vehicle breakdowns are stressful and can even be frightening, depending on the circumstances. If your vehicle won’t start in a parking lot, you have the advantage of being stopped in a safe place, but if the breakdown occurs while you are driving, you must take immediate action to ensure the safety of you and your passengers.

First, don’t panic. Panicking may cause you to make the situation even more dangerous. Stay calm and follow a logical progression to get your vehicle safely off the highway.

Your first action should be to slow down. You should also look for a safe place to pull over, but you must have slowed your vehicle sufficiently to use the space you locate. Remember that if you pull off the pavement, your vehicle will lose traction; if you haven’t slowed down enough, your vehicle could skid.

Once you have located a safe place to pull off the road, try to park where the disabled vehicle can be seen for at least 200 feet in each direction. Avoid pulling off in a curve or near a hill. Move the vehicle so all four wheels are off the pavement or traveled portion of the roadway.

In addition to making your vehicle visible, you must make it obvious that the vehicle is stopped. This is particularly important:

  • at night or in bad weather such as rain or fog, when drivers may be using the lights of other vehicles to guide them
  • considering drivers who may be sleepy or even under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • on the highway, where drivers may be suffering from “highway hypnosis,” a condition that sometimes occurs for people on a long trip

Turn on your emergency flashers, tie a white cloth to the left door handle or antenna, and raise the hood to indicate that your vehicle is stopped and disabled.

Be careful when exiting the vehicle. When the way is clear, exit carefully but quickly and close the driver-side door behind you. Walk to the passenger side of your vehicle. Passengers should exit the vehicle on the side away from traffic.