Drive Safer Memorial Day to Labor Day: 4 Unexpected Hazards to Know

By Rachel Morey

As millions of Americans take to the road this summer, congested roads and highways will be stressful for many. If you're one of the millions of drivers who will get behind the wheel this summer to travel to your destination, it's wise to prepare for unexpected situations that can easily pop up along the way. 

Here are some of the most surprising and possibly dangerous driving scenarios that most drivers experience at some point during their time on the road. Thinking through these situations before they happen could help improve your reaction in the moment, increasing the chances that you’ll make it through your summer rooted trip safely.

Drive Safer Memorial Day to Labor Day: Preparing for the Unexpected

For new and inexperienced drivers, it’s crucial to consider how you’ll react when the unexpected happens. Understanding how your behavior and the decisions you make in the midst of a potentially scary driving situation could help you react appropriately, having a positive effect on the outcome.

1. Wildlife

Every day in the United States, thousands of drivers face the reality of wildlife on the road. Deer, raccoons, and squirrels are common casualties. Damage to vehicles and accidents causing harm to drivers and their passengers happen even in well-populated areas.

To avoid a collision with an animal, be aware of posted warning signs. Slow down in these areas and watch the ditches for movement. When you see one animal, assume there are others as well. If an animal darts out in front of your car, don’t swerve. Doing so increases the chances that you’ll end up in the ditch, collide with another vehicle, or roll your car. In many cases, it’s better to hit the animal than to hit another car.

Try to stay in your lane and keep your braking action controlled as much as possible. If you hit an animal, don’t get out of your car to check on it. You could be hit by another vehicle. Stay put and use your cell phone to call for help. If you are in traffic and can move your car to the shoulder safely, do so.

2. Weather

No one loves to drive in rainstorms, hail, high winds, or sleet. The most important thing to do when bad weather makes driving difficult is to slow down. Even if other drivers on the road are in a hurry, travel at a speed that feels safe for you and your vehicle.

Reduced traction can make any driver feel uneasy. If you feel like you can’t control the car, take your foot off the gas and allow the weight of the vehicle to naturally reduce your speed. Braking could cause the vehicle to slide sideways into oncoming traffic or into the ditch.

If you get caught driving in a sleet or hail storm, pull over into a sheltered area as soon as you can safely do so. Stay inside the vehicle. Other cars may have reduced visibility or they may lose control of their ability to steer and stop. You are safest inside your car.

One of the best ways to be prepared for driving in bad weather is to take care of your vehicle. Replace worn tires, keep a full tank of gas, and make sure your windshield wipers are in good condition. Make sure you have enough windshield wiper fluid. If your heat, air conditioning, or the defrost settings aren’t performing properly, get them checked out right away. Visibility is crucial when driving in bad weather. A fogged windshield is a hazard.

3. Engine failure

It's every driver's nightmare, but eventually, it happens. When your car's engine fails, it's critical to react quickly and correctly to minimize damage to your vehicle and to keep you and your passengers safe. 

"Engine failure is a dreaded driving emergency, but every single driver is bound to have this experience at some point. When it happens while you are driving, put your car's transmission into neutral and pull over to the side of the road. Bear in mind that your brakes and steering work differently with your engine turned off. It's best to call for emergency road service. It may not be safe to exit the vehicle," says Chris Riley, owner of the luxury auto news website Autowise. 

There are several common reasons that your car may die while you are driving. Be sure to turn on your emergency flashers so other drivers understand that you are having problems. If you are out of gas and you can call a friend to bring you enough to get to the nearest gas station, you are in luck. 

Try to start the car after you've safely pulled over. Even if it turns over and you can proceed to your destination, make sure you get it in to see a mechanic as soon as possible. If you can't get the car started, call the non-emergency police number to let them know that you are stranded. They can send a squad car to redirect traffic and help prevent accidents while you wait for a tow truck. 

Dealing with unexpected and unpleasant driving emergencies is part of life behind the wheel. The most important part of getting through these inconvenient and sometimes scary events is to stay calm. Eliminate distractions so you are ready for surprises on the road. Follow general safety rules like keeping the radio at a lower level and watching your surroundings closely. When you face the unexpected, you'll be ready to react in a way that keeps you and your fellow drivers as safe as possible. 

4. Road Rage

Aggressive driving is a traffic offense or combination of offenses such as following too closely, speeding, failing to signal, and general lack of attention or courtesy for other drivers and pedestrians. Aggressive drivers are often simply trying to get somewhere faster, putting themselves and others at risk.

Here are factors that may contribute to road rage:                    

  • Crowded roads which create tension, impatience, and more opportunity for drivers to interact
  • Immaturity, poor attitude
  • The anonymous nature of driving which empowers some people because nobody knows who they are
  • Racial disrespect or prejudice

To stay safe, make sure to stay alert of those drivers nearest to you and surrounding you. Stay calm and peaceful as you operate your vehicle and be sure to leave enough space between you and the car in front of you. Pull over to avoid aggressive drivers that are nearby and driving erratically. Be polite and respectful, and remember -- we're all just trying to get to our destination safely.

Editor's Note: This is the first post in a four-part series on safe summertime driving. For more information, visit DriversEd.com

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