CHAPTER 2 – DRIVING EMERGENCIES
It is vital for all drivers to be aware of the environment in which they travel, other drivers around them, and the vehicle they control.
A. Light Rain / First Rain – The first rain often leads to a dangerous condition in which to operate a motor vehicle. This early rain lifts the oil up from the road surface, but it does not completely wash away the slippery substance. Unfortunately, many drivers are generally unwilling to slow down to a level that the first rain requires, and they continue driving as if the roads were clear and dry. What they fail to realize is that this light rain makes the road slick and simply does not provide enough water to wash away all the accumulated oil and debris. Speed should be dramatically reduced, with extra stopping distance allowed and extreme caution exercised. It is important to remember that when road conditions and surfaces change, braking distance and traction change as well.
B. One-Way Streets – Used mainly in the city, one-way streets help to eliminate confusion in heavily-traveled areas and to keep the flow of traffic moving. Unfortunately, these types of streets often pose unique dangers to drivers. Wrong way drivers are common, as are other motorists making turns from unsafe lanes. You need to know how to properly enter and exit one-way streets, and you need to be prepared to slow down dramatically if necessary. Always choose the safest lane.
- The leading cause of freeway accidents is “FOLLOWING TOO CLOSELY.”
- 50% of all accidents are caused by drivers 16 – 24 years of age.
- 24% of all fatal accidents involve drivers 16 – 24 years of age.
Car manufacturers design vehicles with safety in mind. Get to know your vehicle by familiarizing yourself with its safety features, as they assist in accident prevention.
A. Windshield – Any vehicle manufactured after July 1, 1970, must have a windshield. The purpose of the windshield is to protect you and your passengers from the environment. Fibers and plastic are often laminated between the glass to prevent the windshield from shattering completely in an accident. A clean, clear windshield is a vital element for driving, but this fact is often overlooked as a safety tip. Properly functioning windshield wipers are not just useful during rain or snow, but may also clear the windshield in case of sand or dust storms. (Under ordinary storm conditions, windshield wipers should be able to clear fog, snow or rain.) Even if you are the most skilled driver on the road, you cannot control your vehicle if visibility is impaired. Prior to driving, it is imperative that you check your visibility to ensure it is not hampered by dirty windshields. It is illegal to drive a vehicle on the roads if your vision is impaired to the front or rear by a poorly maintained or defective windshield or rear window.
Note: Do not affix objects such as stickers to your vehicle’s windshield because they may obstruct your visibility. Signs or hanging objects from the rear view mirror are also prohibited. Tinted safety glass is only allowed if it conforms to U.S. Department of Transportation standards and does not affect the safe operation of the vehicle.
B. Crumple Zones – Cars are designed to collapse in an accident in order to absorb the force on impact. The “accordion” look often seen in cars involved in serious accidents is affected by design, whereas the energy of the accident is dispersed throughout the vehicle’s crumpled mass. Assuming the driver and any passengers remain in the vehicle, safely buckled, this design feature dramatically reduces injury in accidents.
C. Truck Under-Ride – Large trucks have a special bar affixed to the rear that extends down from their trailer. This bar, or under-ride, is designed to prevent cars from going under large trucks during an accident. As a rear-ender is the most common accident type, this helps to prevent the tops of vehicles from being sheared off by the trailers of large trucks.
D. Mirrors – Each vehicle must be equipped with a mirror that can reflect a view of the highway to the rear of the vehicle for a distance of at least 200 feet. Each vehicle must also have no less than two mirrors, including one affixed to the left hand side.
Driving on the roads of Virginia requires attentiveness, skill, a vehicle that is responsive, a little luck, and a subconscious mind that can quickly react. When an emergency occurs on the road, the decision to act must be a split-second one, and you must know instinctively what to do. The following will prepare you for an emergency driving situation:
A. Brake Failure – Many factors can cause brake failure. For example, wet brakes that result from driving through puddles or standing water will likely cause your brakes to fail, as will brake overheating caused by prolonged use or hard driving. There is a requirement that every vehicle on the road in Virginia be in proper working order with functional equipment. In passenger vehicles, there are two main braking systems: a hydraulic four-wheel brake system, and a mechanically operated rear wheel parking brake. All brakes and brake components should be maintained in good condition at all times. Properly maintained brakes are not only required by law but are essential for the safe operation of the motor vehicle. It is advisable to check out the condition of your vehicle’s brakes periodically to ensure that they function properly. An emergency situation would involve a total failure of the brakes along with the vehicle gaining momentum and speed heading downhill. If total brake failure occurs, there are several corrective actions you can initiate. Procedures to follow include:
1. Pumping Brakes – Oftentimes a brake line is clogged and brake fluid is not flowing properly. Pumping would attempt to distribute brake fluid adequately. Try this solution first.
NOTE: Do not pump Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS). To initiate ABS Brakes, you must fully compress the brake pedal to near maximum capacity. This will activate the computer to pulsate the brake pads automatically and will continue while pressure is held down.
2. Downshift – The goal with downshifting is to create more friction in the transmission. Shifting to a lower gear allows you to use engine compression to help slow down the vehicle. Downshifting would also be effective in an automatic transmission vehicle.
3. Apply Parking Brake – Use of the parking brake should be a gradual application, with no dramatic movements. Drastic tugging at the brake may cause loss of vehicle control and overturning. (The parking brake in many vehicles is rarely used. Many drivers mistakenly believe that a vehicle parked while still in gear is unlikely to roll. The parking brake, however, is in a motor vehicle for a reason. Car manufacturers can save countless thousands of dollars during vehicle production if they were to omit parking brakes. However, the value of the parking brake is immeasurable. A properly functioning parking brake should be used at all times in conjunction with a vehicle left in gear or in the parked position. The parking brake should be sufficient to hold the vehicle on any grade and capable of locking the wheels to limit any vehicle movement.) Your goal is to slow down the vehicle by any means and avoid locking up your wheels, as that may only cause more problems.
4. Attempt to Warn Others – When your vehicle’s brakes are not functioning, you should honk the horn or make other efforts to notify other drivers out of fairness to them. An out-of-control vehicle is a hazard to all on the road.
5. Sideswipe Objects (attempting to reduce speed) – Sideswiping involves slowing down the vehicle by deflecting the car off other objects on the road. No object should ever be hit head-on, nor should objects like curbs be hit, as they could cause the car to overturn. Guard rails and parked cars would be good objects to sideswipe, as they might gradually slow down the vehicle.
6. Shift into Reverse – If all else fails, shift into reverse. This action will grind all the gears of the transmission together, and will also slow down the vehicle. The transmission will be destroyed, but your life may be saved.
NOTE: Never turn off your vehicle in an attempt to stop.
This action will cause other essential functions, such as steering, to also fail.
B. Tire Blowout – A simple flat is often manageable when driving. A blowout, however, includes the shredding of a tire to the point where you are left driving on a rim with no control of the vehicle. If you need to swerve into an object, do so into something that will “give,” reducing the chance of injury. Sound the horn and flash the lights to alert other drivers that there is a problem. When a blowout occurs, most drivers react by slamming down on the brakes. This instant human reaction, however, will only cause more damage. You should instead hold the steering wheel firmly and keep the vehicle moving straight ahead. Be aware of the following actions that may help you prevent an accident in case of these blowouts:
1. Left Front Tire – If the left front tire blows out, the car will pull to the left, and the steering will be quite heavy. Do not fight the pull, but instead grab hold of the steering wheel with both hands, gain control of the vehicle, and gradually slow down the vehicle. No dramatic or excessive braking should be attempted.
2. Right Front Tire – If the right front tire blows out, the car will pull to the right, and the steering will be quite heavy. Do not fight the pull, but instead grab hold of the steering wheel with both hands, gain control of the vehicle, and gradually slow down the vehicle. No dramatic or excessive braking should be attempted. At speeds below 55 mph, a blow-out should be an easily controlled emergency.
3. Rear Tires – A blowout in any of the rear tires will cause the car to fishtail and feel unstable in the rear. Control of the steering wheel is vital, as is awareness of any other vehicles around. Slowing the car down gradually will help alleviate accident potential.
C. Skids – An out-of-control skid is caused when the vehicle’s tires lose contact with the road. Often, a thin layer of water gets between the tires and the road and the vehicle begins to hydroplane. The old adage, “steer or turn into the skid,” applies only if the driver knows the intended meaning. In a skid, the back wheels of the vehicle are the ones actually skidding, with the front tires following. If you start to skid, you must turn the steering wheel in the direction the back wheels are skidding, or in short, steer the vehicle in the intended direction. Some call it “counter” steering, while others simply call it “correcting” the skid. Regardless of what you call it, the goal is to have the wheels of the vehicle again grasp the road and find the pavement grooves. Drivers commonly turn the steering wheel into the direction the vehicle is perceived to be skidding, which is the direction the front of the vehicle is headed. This will only add to the problem and send the car spiraling out of control. In a car with front wheel drive, the same actions should be taken, but some minor acceleration should be applied. Again, the attempt is to reacquaint the car’s wheels with the pavement.