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2.17 – Driving Emergencies

Traffic emergencies occur when two vehicles are about to collide. Vehicle emergencies occur when tires, brakes or other critical parts fail. Following the safety practices in this manual can help prevent emergencies. But if an emergency does happen, your chances of avoiding a crash depend upon how well you take action. Actions you can take are discussed below.

2.17.1 – Steering to Avoid a Crash

Stopping is not always the safest thing to do in an emergency. When you do not have enough room to stop, you may have to steer away from what is ahead.

Remember: You can almost always turn to miss an obstacle more quickly than you can stop. (However, top-heavy vehicles and tractors with multiple trailers may flip over.)

Keep Both Hands on the Steering Wheel. In order to turn quickly, you must have a firm grip on the steering wheel with both hands. The best way to have both hands on the wheel, if there is an emergency, is to keep them there all the time.

How to Turn Quickly and Safely. A quick turn can be made safely if it is done the right way. Here are some points that safe drivers use:

  • Do not apply the brake while you are turning. It is very easy to lock your wheels while turning. If that happens, you may skid out of control.
  • Do not turn any more than needed to clear whatever is in your way. The more sharply you turn, the greater the chances of a skid or rollover.
  • Be prepared to “countersteer,” that is, to turn the wheel back in the other direction, once you have passed whatever was in your path. Unless you are prepared to countersteer, you will not be able to do it quickly enough. You should think of emergency steering and countersteering as two parts of one driving action.

Where to Steer. If an oncoming driver has drifted into your lane, a move to your right is best. If that driver realizes what has happened, the natural response will be to return to his/her own lane. If something is blocking your path, the best direction to steer will depend on the situation.

  • If you have been using your mirrors, you will know which lane is empty and can be safely used.
  • If the shoulder is clear, going right may be best. No one is likely to be driving on the shoulder, but someone may be passing you on the left. You will know if you have been using your mirrors.
  • If you are blocked on both sides, a move to the right may be best. At least you will not force anyone into an opposing traffic lane and a possible head-on collision.

Leaving the Road. In some emergencies, you may have to drive off the road. It may be less risky than facing a collision with another vehicle. Most shoulders are strong enough to support the weight of a large vehicle and, therefore, offer an available escape route.

Here are some guidelines, if you do leave the road:

  • Avoid braking. If possible, avoid using the brakes until your speed has dropped to about 20 mph. Then brake very gently to avoid skidding on a loose surface.
  • Keep one set of wheels on the pavement, if possible. This helps to maintain control.
  • Stay on the shoulder. If the shoulder is clear, stay on it until your vehicle has come to a stop. Signal and check your mirrors before pulling back onto the road.

Returning to the Road. If you are forced to return to the road before you can stop, use the following procedure:

  • Hold the wheel tightly and turn sharply enough to get right back on the road safely. Do not try to edge gradually back on the road. If you do, your tires might grab unexpectedly and you could lose control.
  • When both front tires are on the paved surface, countersteer immediately. The two turns should be made as a single “steer-countersteer” move.

Multiple-Choice Questions:

Question #146 (1 of 5)

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If an oncoming driver has drifted into your lane, what is the best move?

  • None of these are the best choice
  • Stay straight. Do not veer out of your lane.
  • A move to your right
  • A move to your left
Where to Steer. If an oncoming driver has drifted into your lane, a move to your right is best. If that driver realizes what has happened, the natural response will be to return to his/her own lane. If something is blocking your path, the best direction to steer will depend on the situation.
It's easy to overthink this and steer to your left (toward the oncoming lane) thinking the oncoming vehicle will basically wind up "switching sides" with you and going around you on the wrong side. Rarely will that happen. Most of the time someone drifts into oncoming traffic is because they are distracted. Once they look up again and realize what has happened, they will instinctually jerk the vehicle back into their lane.
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Question #148 (2 of 5)

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When you are returning to the road after an emergency you should hold the wheel tightly and turn sharply enough to get right back on the road safely. What should you do immediately after both front tires are on the paved surface?

  • Countersteer immediately
  • Accelerate immediately
  • None of these are the correct response
  • Brake immediately

Returning to the Road. If you are forced to return to the road before you can stop, use the following procedure:

  • Hold the wheel tightly and turn sharply enough to get right back on the road safely. Do not try to edge gradually back on the road. If you do, your tires might grab unexpectedly and you could lose control.
  • When both front tires are on the paved surface, countersteer immediately. The two turns should be made as a single “steer-countersteer” move.
Be extremely careful about using the shoulder with a tractor-trailer. You can sink rather easily, and you won't know it's soft until it's too late. Try to avoid using the shoulder.
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Question #144 (3 of 5)

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Which of the following is true about emergencies in a tractor-trailer?

  • Stopping is not always the safest thing to do in an emergency. When you do not have enough room to stop, you may have to steer away from what is ahead.
  • Immediately get on the brakes hard when you see an emergency happening. Braking quickly will be the only way to avoid most accidents.
  • Emergencies rarely happen in good conditions, so that's when you can normally relax (sunny day, light traffic). Don't waste too much energy trying to be vigilant when conditions are good. Save your energy for dangerous conditions and then prepare for emergencies.
  • Braking and steering at the same time can help push the tires into the ground harder, giving them better traction. Try to use the brakes with moderate force while steering around an emergency.

Stopping is not always the safest thing to do in an emergency. When you do not have enough room to stop, you may have to steer away from what is ahead.

Remember: You can almost always turn to miss an obstacle more quickly than you can stop. (However, top-heavy vehicles and tractors with multiple trailers may flip over.)

When you see an emergency ahead, look for a place to steer around the accident. Do not count on getting stopped in time.
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Question #145 (4 of 5)

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Which of the following is true about turning quickly and safely?

  • All of these are true
  • Do not apply the brake while you are turning. It is very easy to lock your wheels while turning. If that happens, you may skid out of control.
  • Be prepared to “countersteer,” that is, to turn the wheel back in the other direction, once you have passed whatever was in your path. Unless you are prepared to countersteer, you will not be able to do it quickly enough. You should think of emergency steering and countersteering as two parts of one driving action
  • Do not turn any more than needed to clear whatever is in your way. The more sharply you turn, the greater the chances of a skid or rollover.

How to Turn Quickly and Safely. A quick turn can be made safely if it is done the right way. Here are some points that safe drivers use:

  • Do not apply the brake while you are turning. It is very easy to lock your wheels while turning. If that happens, you may skid out of control.
  • Do not turn any more than needed to clear whatever is in your way. The more sharply you turn, the greater the chances of a skid or rollover.
  • Be prepared to “countersteer,” that is, to turn the wheel back in the other direction, once you have passed whatever was in your path. Unless you are prepared to countersteer, you will not be able to do it quickly enough. You should think of emergency steering and countersteering as two parts of one driving action.
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Question #147 (5 of 5)

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Which of the following is not true about leaving the road to avoid an emergency?

  • Stay on the shoulder. If the shoulder is clear, stay on it until your vehicle has come to a stop. Signal and check your mirrors before pulling back onto the road.
  • Keep one set of wheels on the pavement, if possible. This helps to maintain control.
  • Apply your brakes as quickly as possible. Get your speed down. While braking, steer hard if necessary. Under braking is the best time to steer because you'll have more stability and traction.
  • Avoid braking. If possible, avoid using the brakes until your speed has dropped to about 20 mph. Then brake very gently to avoid skidding on a loose surface.

Here are some guidelines, if you do leave the road:

  • Avoid braking. If possible, avoid using the brakes until your speed has dropped to about 20 mph. Then brake very gently to avoid skidding on a loose surface.
  • Keep one set of wheels on the pavement, if possible. This helps to maintain control.
  • Stay on the shoulder. If the shoulder is clear, stay on it until your vehicle has come to a stop. Signal and check your mirrors before pulling back onto the road.
Be extremely careful about using the shoulder with a tractor trailer. You can sink rather easily, and you won't know it's soft until it's too late. Try to avoid using the shoulder.
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