Being prepared for disaster at the wheel can save your life. Below, we shed some light on what to do in several severe scenarios. 

A vehicle is a machine – and, like any machine, your car, truck, or wagon is built from countless parts that can break, malfunction or fail. Gas pedals can stick, wheels can fall off, and the windshield can be shattered faster than you can blink. If something goes terribly wrong with your vehicle, it can leave you, the driver, facing a world of potentially-fatal problems.

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Hazard: Fleeting impact

You’ve just hit a deer and had an airbag deployment, or had your windshield shattered by a flying piece of debris. In the fleeting impact situation, you’re suffering from a drastically-reduced ability to see outside, and you’re virtually driving blind, but your vehicle is still moving and driveable.

Solution: Know your surroundings

A good driver knows what’s going on all around them at all times. Frequent mirror checks and looking around are vital to situational awareness, and for giving drivers a better sense of how to exit the highway safely. Signal and move to the shoulder as smoothly and as soon as you can before taking corrective action and calling for help. If you’re driving blind, “feel” for the edge of the pavement and keep going until you know you’re clear of the roadway, asking your passengers for help.

Hazard: Stuck throttle

A malfunction with your throttle keeps the pedal stuck to the floor after you complete a passing maneuver. You start to panic, and your vehicle piles on speed dangerously.

Solution: Know your ride, and use NEUTRAL immediately

Forget turning off the engine or braking. The first course of action here is to slip the vehicle into neutral. Doing so takes about half-a-second, and decouples the engine from the wheels. The engine will continue to rev at maximum RPM, though the vehicle will slow. The sound of the engine revving at high speed may be intimidating, but it’s the least of your worries. Once in neutral, signal, brake and get off the road immediately. Turn the engine off and assess the problem.

Practice putting your gear selector into neutral, so you’re ready if the need arises. Teach your kids, too.

Hazard: Down a front wheel

You’ve blown a tire, struck a pothole and lost a wheel, or suffered a ball-joint failure, which has caused your steering knuckle and strut assembly to be wrenched violently from the car. In this situation, you’re driving on three wheels with almost no ability to steer.

Solution: Avoid the brakes

Fight the natural urge to brake, which transfers more weight onto the damaged front end and may cause it to dig into the road, sending the vehicle further out of control. Look where you want to go, and steer smoothly and gently to try and get the vehicle to the shoulder, using as little braking as possible, if any. If one front wheel is still intact, the car may still have some degree of steering. Keep your eyes on your escape path from the roadway, not on the vehicles you don’t want to hit. Don’t go Hollywood with the controls either, as this will escalate the problem. Steering and lightly braking, gently, are key.

Hazard: Heavy impact

You’ve struck a moose head on, been sideswiped by another car at highway speeds and sent spinning into a guardrail, or plowed head-on into a pack of slow-moving cars, potentially starting a pile-up. You’re injured, your vehicle is heavily damaged, and activation of the crash sensor has killed your engine.

Solution: Get off the road, and stay there

If any momentum is still available, try and get the vehicle as far toward the shoulder as possible. Quickly activate hazard lights if possible, and exit the vehicle with your passengers, moving far to the side of the highway. Call for help immediately. Wait for first responders to handle things, and forget about attempting to re-enter the car, or moving the car from the road. Keep any injured passengers warm and alert, and raise any wounds with heavy bleeding above the chest, if applicable.

By Justin Pritchard