Highway Driving Safety
Dealing with Highway Emergencies

Highway Driving Safety: Emergency Stops, Making Repairs & Getting Help

Updated Dec. 11, 2020

Practicing defensive driving techniques can help you avoid accidents and emergencies on the highway. You may still encounter crashes irrespective of how careful you are, as you cannot rely on other drivers to make safe decisions all the time. The nature of expressway driving means that a single accident or collision can end up disrupting many different vehicles. By searching the road ahead and leaving as much space as possible around your car, you can minimize your chances of getting caught up in an accident if one occurs.

The busier the road, the harder it will be to keep out of trouble if a crash or some other highway emergency happens. Your safety in this situation depends on thinking before you act and remaining focused – do your best not to panic. Allowing a knee-jerk reaction to take over can make the situation more dangerous for yourself and other road users.

Take a moment to consider your options before taking any evasive action; the choice you make will likely be far more effective as a result. In nearly all cases, something can be done to avoid or reduce the severity of an imminent collision.

Making an emergency stop

All motorists must learn how to bring their vehicle to a safe stop during an emergency on a highway. No matter how cautiously you drive, some emergencies – such as mechanical failures or sudden ill health – cannot be avoided. Stopping or attempting to reverse in the main driving lane on a highway is extremely dangerous, so your focus must be to reach the shoulder as quickly and as safely as possible. Remember these rules when making an emergency stop on a highway:

  1. 1

    Always warn drivers to your rear that you intend to slow down and stop, by tapping the brake pedal gently to activate your brake lights.

  2. 2

    Activate your hazard lights straight away – do not wait until you have successfully pulled over.

  3. 3

    Check the space behind your vehicle in your rear-view mirror before braking.

  4. 4

    Move to the shoulder, choosing the outside shoulder rather than the central divide shoulder – if possible.
    Remain calm and maneuver in a controlled manner.

  5. 5

    Come to a full stop on the shoulder, leaving hazard lights active.

Making repairs

You should endeavor to make your stopped vehicle as visible to other highway users as possible. With fast-moving traffic just one lane away, sitting on the shoulder of the road is dangerous. Set up reflectors or flares around your vehicle, in addition to leaving hazard lights on.

Attempting to make repairs to your own vehicle on a highway shoulder is generally a very bad idea – even if you have the necessary skills and tools. Working around your vehicle will leave you vulnerable to being hit by careless drivers straying too close to the shoulder. If you are experiencing a severe mechanical problem and cannot get back on the highway, it is best to have your car towed for repairs.

Getting help

When a technical issue leads you to pull over on a highway and seek assistance, make sure your vehicle is stopped as far onto the shoulder as possible, away from the main driving lanes. Every moment you are stopped by the roadside leaves you at risk. Keep these safety tips in mind when seeking assistance on the highway:

  • Signal that you need assistance by switching hazard lights on and raising the hood of your vehicle.
  • Use your cell phone to call for assistance or ask any other drivers who stop to call for assistance on your behalf.
  • Remain in the car with your seat belt fastened and the doors locked while you wait for help.
  • Never get into a stranger’s vehicle. If they do not have a cell phone, ask them to go on ahead and call for help at the next roadside phone or rest stop.

Disabled vehicles

Remember the “move over” law when passing a disabled vehicle on the side of the highway. Moving to a more distant lane to give a disabled vehicle room is good practice, even if it is not a legal requirement in your state. You can read more about the “move over” law in your state’s driving manual if it applies in your area.

Reduce your speed as soon as you see a disabled vehicle on the highway. Keep an eye out for pedestrians, emergency responders, tow trucks and repair equipment around the stopped vehicle.

Would you pass a driving test today?

Find out with our free quiz!


Like the article? Give us 5 points!

Click a star to add your vote

5.0 out of 5 stars based on 5 votes.

Read next

Driving in Work Zones
Driving in Work Zones 1 of 2

Driving in Work Zones

The term “work zone” refers to any area on a public road where utility, construction or maintenance work is being conducted. There may be barriers, cones, heavy equipment, temporary signs, signal lights and workers in the roadway, prior to, during and beyond work sites. Nearly all states have chosen to discourage dangerous driving around high-risk work zones by increasing or doubling the fines incurred by traffic violations.

Work Zone Signs & Signals
Driving in Work Zones 2 of 2

Work Zone Signs & Signals

Drivers moving through a roadway work zone will come across unexpected road signs, signals and traffic control measures. Traffic control personnel – often known as flaggers or flagmen – may be positioned around a work zone to manage the flow of traffic through the site. The increased risk around work zones means that obeying the signs, signals and traffic control devices established in these areas is every bit as important as obeying them elsewhere.

Driving in Hazardous Road Conditions
Driving in Bad Weather 1 of 11

Driving in Hazardous Conditions

Unfavorable weather and road conditions can create hazards that make driving difficult, and more dangerous. You must learn how to identify and compensate for these hazards, to protect yourself and other road users from harm. hoosing not to drive in rain, snow or fog, at night or during any other hazardous conditions is always the smartest decision.

Driving on Highways 8 of 10

Special Highway Areas

While using highways, you may encounter areas which require different driving behaviors, or where a different set of rules apply. Understanding how areas like HOV lanes and toll booths must be used will help you to stay out of danger and avoid getting a ticket.

Driving on Highways 9 of 10

Exiting a Highway

While exiting a highway is nowhere near as difficult or intimidating as entering one, there is still a lot that can go wrong. Learning how to exit a highway safely is a skill like any other you will learn in preparation for your driver’s exam. It will not require you to merge with traffic as you do when entering the highway, though it still deserves considerable attention.

Driving on Highways 10 of 10

Highway Construction Zones

Highway construction zones present additional risks to drivers and the construction workers themselves. You may encounter signs, signal devices, cones and traffic control personnel, all in place to warn motorists and guide them around the work zone safely. Slow down is the number one rule. Keep an eye out for speed limit signs and workers occupying the road.

Highway Driving Safety 1 of 4

Highway Driving Safety

There are additional rules, safety tips and considerations which all drivers must keep in mind when using limited access highways. A great deal can be done to minimize the risk of being involved in a highway accident – though we cannot eliminate that risk altogether. This vital conclusion to our highway driving section reiterates the safe highway driving practices you must adhere to, discusses the importance of planning for your trip and teaches you how to handle an emergency on the highway.

Highway Driving Safety 2 of 4

Preparing for The Trip

If your journey involves using unfamiliar limited access highways, planning your route ahead of time is essential. Mapping out your trip in advance will minimize stress and ensure you do not miss vital exits on the freeway.

Highway Driving Safety 3 of 4

Important Driving Practices

This section summarizes those must-know highway driving techniques and safety practices. Organized into an easy-to-follow checklist, this information can be printed off and revisited as often as needed; you may wish to read through it again before taking your car onto a freeway.