How to handle driving emergencies

Justin Stoltzfus
For many, driving is a routine. We take for granted that we'll get to work and school and home again. But on the road, things can change in a split second. A tire blows out. Your brakes fail. Another car swerves in front of you. Here's how to deal with some of the most common emergencies the road can throw at you.
Tire blowouts
A blowout means that your tire has gone out with a bang -- literally. And that noise can startle drivers. But whatever you do, don't hit the brakes, according to Instead, do the following:
  • Squeeze the gas pedal for a few seconds, then slowly release.
  • Keep driving straight ahead, and don't try to turn onto the shoulder. Turning with a blown tire at a high speed will cause you to lose control.
  • Let your car slow down to 30 miles per hour. Gently turn your car onto the shoulder that's on the same side as your blown tire. If necessary, squeeze lightly on the brakes.
Tread separation
A tread separation, according to Edmunds, is worse than a blowout because the rubber and belt become detached. Once free of the tire, the rubber and belt will continue spinning around at high speeds, slicing through anything they come in contact with. You'll know a tread separation is imminent if you hear a thumping noise, followed by a slapping noise, followed by a pounding noise. This can happen over a few days or within seconds, according to Edmunds.
Once you start hearing the thumping noise, get your car to a mechanic. If the tread suddenly flies off, do exactly what you would do for a tire blowout.
Brake failure
If your brakes stop working, you still may be able to bring your car to a safe stop by doing the following, according to the American Safety Council:
  • Pump your brakes quickly to try to build up any residual pressure.
  • Shift your car into a lower gear. Wind resistance and friction eventually will slow your car down.
  • Use your hand brake (parking brake).
  • If possible, find something that your car can rub against -- like bushes, guardrails or fences.
Stopping suddenly
If the driver in front of you suddenly slams on the brakes, or if a bicyclist darts in front of you, you'll need to know how to stop your car safely and quickly.
If you don't have an antilock brake system, squeeze the brakes (rather than slamming on them) to make sure your tires don't skid. Edmunds warns that this skill requires practice. And remember: If you lock the brakes, you won't be able to steer your car, so don't turn the wheel. When tires find new grip, the car can rocket off in an unintended direction.
If you have antilock brakes, slam on the brakes as hard as you can, and don't let go of them until the car comes to a complete stop. Antilock brakes let you maintain control of steering.
If your front tires lose their grip (if you hit a patch of ice while driving during the winter, for example), take your foot off the accelerator, but don't let it anywhere near the brake pedal, according to Edmunds. Don't attempt to steer. Wait for traction to return.
If your rear wheels are sliding, you're in a much trickier situation, according to Edmunds. The safest thing to do is bring your car to a stop. Hit the brakes, and don't let up until the vehicle is completely stopped. If you let up too soon, there's no telling which way your wheels are pointing, and your car will swerve off in that direction.
Power steering fails
You'll still be able to control your car, but it will be a lot more difficult. Slow down, and avoid making sharp turns, according to the American Safety Council. And drive in the direction of a mechanic.

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