How to handle blowouts and other highway problems

Any number of unexpected situations can arise on the road. The proper response is always to stay calm and take the appropriate steps. Stuck gas pedal. If the gas pedal fails to respond when you lift your foot, tap it a few times to see if it will spring back. If this doesn't work, keep the shift in neutral and brake gradually, giving a right-turn signal.

If you're driving on a highway and the accelerator pedal sticks after passing a car, signal that you plan to pull off the road onto the shoulder. Never reach down to release the pedal manually, because then you'll be out of driving position in the car and your eyes will be off the road.

You might toe up the pedal if it's attached to the linkage that goes to the engine. If the pedal rests on the linkage, this maneuver won't work. Remember, if you turn off the engine, you lose the power steering and braking as well.

Tire blowout. Hold the steering wheel firmly at all times. When a tire blows out, a car pulls to the side of the blowout. The steering wheel vibrates violently, so you need to have two hands on the wheel at all times. Keep your foot off the brake. Stopping quickly only throws the car out of control; but at the same time, fight the tendency of the car to pull to the side of the blowout. Rather, keep in the lane, if possible, and then gradually pull off the road.

For a rear-tire blowout, handle the situation the same way. Try to find flat ground well off the road before changing the tire or waiting for the emergency road-service truck.

Blinding headlights. One big problem from night-driving can be high-beam lights from oncoming traffic, especially on two-lane roads. When headlights momentarily blind your vision at night, take your eyes off the oncoming lights and watch the center line or the line along the outer right edge on an expressway. After you pass the glare, vision normally returns quickly.

Hood pop-ups. Try to look through the area between the bottom of the hood and the top of the dashboard. If that doesn't work, stick your head out the left-side door window. Brake gradually, turn on the emergency flashers, and give a hand signal you intend to ease onto the shoulder, service lane, or curb closest to you. If you can't stop where you are, go slowly until you're able to leave the road safely.

As a general safety rule check the hood after any engine servicing. Since 1969 a federal law requires that all cars with front-opening hoods be equipped with a double latch system. The double latch has reduced but not eliminated surprise hood pop-ups.

Tire hydroplaning. When tires are not in solid contact with the wet pavement, a gust of wind, a passing maneuver, or a driver's evasive action may throw the car out of control. Take your foot off the gas pedal, keep the steering steady, and don't use the brakes. If you do, you'll only spin on the wet surface. As the car slows down, the hydroplaning stops.

When enough water is present on the road surface and a vehicle is moving fast enough, a wedge of water can build up under the tires until they are actually riding on the water with little or no contact with the road. A standard-size car with good tires, carrying the recommended air pressure, can start to hydroplane at about 35 miles an hour and, at 55 m.p.h., become completely airborne.

``Your best defense,'' cautions the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, ``is to know such conditions exist whenever driving on a wet pavement, particularly when you can see reflections on the road surface of other vehicles, trees, poles, or if raindrops `dimple' when they hit the surface.''

Third in a series of articles on how to handle an emergency situation on the highway. The fourth will appear tomorrow.

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