On October 2nd, a truck driver was struck and killed by a car after he pulled his big rig over to the side of I-80 near Davis and stepped out of the vehicle. He had been standing near the back of his truck when he was hit by a driver who veered onto the shoulder to avoid an unexpected traffic backup. Police estimated that the car was traveling about 55 to 60 miles an hour when the truck driver was struck.
Accidents like these are far too common. According to the Federal Highway Administration, every year, 59,000 pedestrians are injured by cars, and 4,000 are killed. This accident so close to home serves as a reminder that when you have to pull over to the side of a busy road or freeway, it is imperative that you remain aware of your surroundings. Here are a few tips on what you can do to stay safe when your car breaks down, you stop to help someone else, or you have to pull over for any other reason:
#1. Move your car over as far off the road as possible.
This may seem obvious, but many people fail to heed this rule. Just because there’s a wide shoulder doesn’t mean that you should just stop your car in the middle of it. Put as much space as possible between your car and the roadway. If the ground next to the pavement is flat and smooth, you might want to consider pulling off of the shoulder entirely.
Even if you’ve got a flat tire, you still need to move your car out of harm’s way in order to safely fix the issue.
#2. Stand on the side of your car opposite the roadway, or a couple hundred feet in front of your car.
Many people stand immediately in front or behind their car. This results in many accidents where victims are either pinned against their car, or are struck by their own car when another vehicle strikes it and shoves it forward. Use your car as a barrier between you and other drivers by standing on the far side of it, and keep as much distance as possible between you and the car. If there’s a railing that you can safely stand behind, step over that.
If you are on a narrow shoulder where there isn’t much room to move to the side off of the roadway, walk a ways down the road ahead of your car, and stay as far off of the road as possible. A car traveling at freeway speeds can push another car hundreds of feet, so don’t underestimate the distance you should maintain between you and your vehicle. Make sure the parking brake is engaged, so that your car won’t roll easily if hit.
If you are pulling over to help someone, make sure to park your car well behind them, to minimize the risk of a collision causing your car to strike the person you are assisting (or their car).
And never, ever turn your back on traffic. Always make sure that your view of oncoming vehicles is unimpeded.
#3. Keep flags, flares, or other hazard indicators in your trunk.
Many accidents occur because drivers simply don’t see that someone is on the side of the road. Always carry warning flags, flares, reflectors, or other warning indicators in your car. Even if it’s daylight, use them anyway. And if at all possible, turn on your car’s hazard lights. Even if the engine is disabled, the electrical system will still work.
#4. If you are unable to move your car, or the car of someone you are assisting, call for help immediately.
Oftentimes, people will spend several minutes trying to start their cars before they give up and call a tow truck driver or the highway patrol. But every minute that you are on the side of the highway, you are at serious risk—your priority needs to be your safety, not your car. If you’ve been trying to start a disabled vehicle for more than a few seconds to no avail, stop what you’re doing and immediately call for help.
Even if you think you might be able to fix the issue, call the highway patrol, which can dispatch a Freeway Service Patrol truck to help ensure your safety. Don’t be too proud to ask for help.