At their best, breakdowns and collisions are inconvenient, while at their worst, they have the potential for deadly consequences. The difference can be in knowing what to do when something happens.
According to CAA, if your vehicle breaks down, don’t panic. Stay calm and try to pull your car off to the side of the road as quickly as you can, and as safely as possible.
CAA offers free, downloadable checklists that can be stashed in the glovebox, to help ensure that you have all the information you need should either one happen to you.
The best insurance against a breakdown is maintaining your vehicle, and promptly repairing any issues that crop up. However, even the best-kept vehicle can hit a snag and leave you stranded.
What to do first?
Even if you get your vehicle far away from traffic, turn on your four-way flashers to indicate your position. Whether you get out of the car or stay inside it will depend on the circumstances, but if you decide to get out, watch for oncoming traffic before you open your door, especially if it’s dark or the weather is bad. Never stand behind or in front of your vehicle, which could be fatal if another vehicle strikes it. On the highway, it’s safest to stay in your vehicle, and wearing your seatbelt.
Know where you are so you can give that information when you call for help. You can point out the nearest intersection or highway exit, or look for a nearby mile marker on the highway. Landmarks such as a shopping mall or restaurant are also useful to responders, or nearby house numbers if you’re in a residential area.
If you’ve broken down on the highway, never try to cross it, even if traffic seems light. Oncoming vehicles will look like they’re moving more slowly than they actually are, and it’s likely that you’ll misjudge the distance.
You’ll either cause a crash as drivers panic and try to avoid you, or if you’re hit at highway speeds, it will inevitably be fatal.
In the event of a crash…
Collisions present their own difficult circumstances. First and foremost, determine if anyone needs immediate medical attention, and if so, dial 9-1-1.
If no one is hurt, then the worst is over, and now it’s primarily about the paperwork. Stay calm, and follow the tips on the CAA checklist. As soon as possible, use your phone to snap a photo of the other driver’s license plate number, or write it down. If the driver takes off, you have the number to give to the police.
If it’s safe to do so, get the vehicles off to the side of the road or into a parking lot. If they can’t be moved, then stand on the sidewalk as far away from the cars as possible. Rubbernecking drivers tend to stare at the crash, and then steer to where they’re looking — secondary crashes caused by this are very common.
If the other driver becomes argumentative, stay calm and don’t fight back. If you can’t defuse the situation, get back in your vehicle and lock the doors until the police arrive.
But it’s more likely the other person will be cooperative, so exchange names, driver’s license numbers, and insurance information. Get the names and numbers of any witnesses. Snap photos of the collision and damage. Take a moment to write down all pertinent information while it’s still fresh: the time of the crash, the weather, and if traffic lights were red or green. Draw a diagram showing the position of the cars (from an overhead perspective, which you won’t be able to capture on your phone), and note or photograph any stop or yield signs.
All of that may seem like overkill, but it’s very easy to forget the details. Some of them could be vital when you’re making your insurance claim, or if you have to go to court, either to testify against the other driver or to defend yourself. The aggravation following a collision is never fun, but handling everything properly right from the start will help make it all go much more smoothly.