Consumer Watch: Safety tips if your car hits the skids

Consumer Watch: Safety tips if your car hits the skids

January 19th, 2014 by Ellen Phillips in Business Diary

Ellen Phillips

Even in the South, winter driving can be treacherous. One minute you're cruising along the highway and the next an unplanned event forces you off the road. Whether it's an empty gas tank or a flat tire, on a dark road at night or a busy interstate during the day, it's a scary and perhaps even dangerous event. So what do you do? According to Consumer Reports, every driver should be aware of the five essential steps to staying safe.

1 Alert other drivers. Immediately turn on your emergency flashers when you realize there's a problem, whereby reducing the chances that you'll be hit by another vehicle.

2 Get off the road. As quickly as possible, steer out of traffic lanes; if on the highway, at the very least, get onto the right shoulder. If you absolutely must, use the center median strip. After all, most anything is better than stopping cold in traffic.

3 Use your warning gear. Hopefully, your trunk already contains flares, reflective devices, or other warning items. If safe to do so, place these devices far enough back so oncoming traffic has enough time to react. Raise your car's hood or tie a brightly-colored cloth to the antenna. If the incident occurs at night, leave the lights on as well as the flashers.

4 Call for help. Call 911 to reach state police as soon as possible. Note any mile markers, exit signs, or landmarks to tell the operator your (closest) location. If you belong to a roadside assistance service, call these folks, too, but only after first contacting the police.

5 Wait in a safe location. Authorities vary on what constitutes "safe" or safer. Some suggest staying in the car with the windows up and doors locked. (Do NOT allow a stranger access to your vehicle and only open the windows a crack to ask the person to also call 911 for you.) Others urge us to hide in the bushes or in a ditch. Walking along major highways is dangerous, especially at night or in bad weather. Obviously, your safe area depends upon factors, such as weather, day or night, highway or country road, and/or close to town or remote area. Being hit by another car is not the only - or worse - danger that can accost us in a situation like this.

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer books. Email her at consumer watch@timesfreepress.com.