Responding in the right way to road emergencies

You've just pulled out of the exit of a rest stop on Interstate 80 and begin to pick up speed to pass a car. You go around, pull ahead of the car in the right lane, and then check the passed car's position so you can return to the inside lane once again. Just as you straighten out, you hear a loud bang from the left front end of the car. Instantly, you think ``blowout'' as the left front of the car hunches down.

Or maybe you're driving down a two-lane city street when a car crosses the center lane and you have no place to go.

In road emergencies such as these, do you really know what to do? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Department of Transportation, and state police reports testify that if drivers knew how to respond to driving crises, they could cut down on the severity of an accident or even prevent a collision altogether.

``Whether you've been driving a few years or 30, you can reduce your odds of having an accident by getting better acquainted with how your car handles, being aware of existing road conditions, brushing up on everyday driving techniques, and spotting danger signals in time to take the correct, immediate action,'' advises an NHTSA pamphlet.

``Drivers need to plan to control panic situations,'' it adds. ``If they note and review emergency practices periodically, they should remember to execute them as the crucial moments come up instead of pushing the panic button.''

Head-on collision. Go to the right and brake hard. If you try to dodge to the left, the other driver might correct into that lane at the last second. Blow the horn, flash the lights, go off the road, or even into a ditch.

Braking problem. Probably the most helpless feeling you can have on the road is to push the brake pedal to the floor and have nothing happen, especially if you're going downhill. Pump the brake pedal. You might restore pressure. Try the emergency or parking brake, but only brake gradually to avoid spinning the car. Then shift into a lower gear to allow the engine drag to slow down the car.

Down-shifting also prevents overheating of the brakes and possible complete brake failure if that hasn't already occurred.

If the car is still moving, sideswipe whatever will slow and stop the vehicles -- a guardrail, curbing, heavy brush, trees, and even parked cars. Scraped metal can be repaired.

Driving through water puddles at high speeds can affect the brakes. Usually, disc brakes are far less of a problem than the older drum brakes. But whenever you drive through fairly deep water, check the traffic conditions and then lightly apply the brakes. If the car pulls to one side or the other, make a few more light-braking applications to allow the friction to dry the brake linings.

If you must pass through water, use your left foot on the brake pedal to help keep the pads dry.

First of a series of articles on how to handle an emergency situation on the highway. The second will appear tomorrow.

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