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Whitney Nichels,

Preparation, Awareness and Vigilance Among Keys to Motorists’ Safety During Roadside Emergencies

Agencies Join Together to Urge Caution for Motor Vehicle Drivers and Passengers

HANOVER, MD (November 18, 2020) – Multiple state agencies have come together to provide guidance to motorists to keep them and others safe in the event of an emergency incident or minor vehicle crash while traveling. Working together, the Maryland Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Administration’s (MDOT MVA) Highway Safety Office and State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA), the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA), Maryland Transportation Authority Police (MDTAP), Maryland State Police (MSP) and Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems (MIEMSS) are reminding motorists and passengers of the dangers created by roadside emergencies and vehicle breakdowns.

“All of the participating agencies share a commitment to making our roads safer, and we look forward to spreading these critical messages that could potentially save lives,” said MDOT MVA Administrator Chrissy Nizer, who also serves as Governor Larry Hogan’s Highway Safety Representative. “Getting out of a vehicle on a roadway is extremely dangerous and can put motorists and their passengers in vulnerable situations. We encourage all motorists to remember and apply these safety messages if they find themselves in a crash or breakdown situation."

The most important reminder is the need to use caution and common sense – because every incident is unique. To be ready for the unexpected, motorists and passengers are encouraged to:

  • Prepare their vehicle in advance to avoid and minimize emergencies,
  • Assess the situation when a roadside emergency occurs,
  • Use good judgment in deciding how to respond, and
  • Stay vigilant for other motorists because roadside emergencies are fluid situations that can change in an instant.

To avoid roadside emergencies and unnecessary stopping on roadways, motorists should first and foremost verify their vehicle is in good working condition before traveling. Ensuring the vehicle has properly inflated tires, plenty of windshield washer fluid, inspected belts and hoses, a filled radiator, a good spare tire, enough fuel and an engine with no known malfunctions can help eliminate some – but not all – unexpected breakdowns. Motorists are encouraged to have an emergency kit in their car including reflective triangles, a flashing warning light, flashlight, jumper cables, temporary flat tire repair, a blanket, water and a reflective vest.

Find a Safe Place

If your vehicle does become disabled, do your best to get it off the travel portion of the road and onto the shoulder, if possible. If there is an opportunity to reach an off-ramp or parking lot, consider that option, even if it means driving on a flat tire or damaging a rim. The same is true if you are involved in a minor vehicle crash and your vehicle can be moved. The further from the travel portion of the highway you can be, the safer you will be. Never stop or park in the triangular shaped painted zones where a ramp exits the roadway.

Assess the Situation and Call for Help

Whether you are unable to move the vehicle from the travel portion of the highway or able to make it to the shoulder, it is important to assess your situation and determine the next steps to take. Every situation is different, but by identifying the options and using common sense, you are more likely to be in a safer situation.

As soon as you can, call for assistance. If you are on an interstate highway, dial #77 to be connected to the closest Maryland State Police barrack. If you are near an MDTA facility, #77 will connect you to MDTA Police. All motorists can call 9-1-1 for assistance. If you are in the travel portion of a roadway, contact emergency services immediately. Additionally, many insurance companies offer roadside assistance. If you have a roadside assistance plan, call them with the specifics of your location and description of your vehicle.

If you are able to remain in your vehicle

If you can remain in your vehicle, stay buckled and face forward, especially if you’re stopped on an elevated roadway such as a bridge or overpass. A potential danger, commonly referred to as the “moth effect,” describes how drivers often drift toward lights or objects that attract their attention – even if those lights or objects are located on a vehicle off the roadway, parked on the shoulder. Vehicles are equipped with multiple safety features that are designed to protect you and your passengers while the car is in motion or while parked. By remaining buckled and in the standard seated position, you are likely to be better protected if another vehicle hits your vehicle.

If you are unable to remain in your vehicle

If it is not safe or possible to remain within your vehicle, motorists and passengers are encouraged to evaluate the situation around them to determine an opportune time to exit the vehicle. When exiting the vehicle, move quickly away from the roadway and behind an embankment, traffic barrier or guardrail and, if possible, to higher ground. Face oncoming traffic and remain alert in the event a vehicle veers into your path. Do not stand near the vehicle. If you smell smoke or see fire, always consider your personal safety first before crossing any lanes of traffic.

If you are stranded in the travel lanes

If you are stranded in the travel portion of a roadway, it is important to activate your warning lights, contact emergency services and then assess the situation if you should leave your vehicle for a safe location away from the highway.  However, it is important to remember that crossing even one lane of a highway on foot can be extremely dangerous.

ALL motorists play a role in promoting safety for those involved in a roadside emergency. ALL drivers are reminded to drive sober, slow down and put your phone down while driving. In Maryland, it is a state law to MOVE OVER for emergency responders. If you are unable to move over, slow down while passing.

Although there are multiple suggested actions that can increase your safety during an incident, there is not one single set of procedures that can guarantee the safety of drivers and passengers. Remember, every situation is different, and motorists and passengers should prepareassessuse good judgment and stay vigilant to ensure they make the best decisions based on their specific roadside emergency.

For more information on highway safety and strategies to protect yourself and others when traveling Maryland’s roadways, please visit