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

Partnering agencies develop video urging caution for drivers and passengers

GLEN BURNIE, MD (November 10, 2021) – The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) and other state agencies are joining together to remind motorists of steps they can take to keep themselves and others safe in the event of an emergency incident or minor vehicle crash while traveling. The MDOT Motor Vehicle Administration’s (MDOT MVA) Highway Safety Office, MDOT 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) have partnered to develop a new video explaining common emergencies encountered by motorists with suggestions on how to navigate them safely.


The video reinforces key steps motorists should follow in the event of a roadside emergency. The 30-second video will be played on cable TV, Hulu and YouTube, while a 60-second version will be used on social media for the next several months as Maryland enters a time with less daylight hours. The most important reminder for motorists is 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 and 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, sufficient 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 move it from the travel portion of the road to 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 MSP 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 9-1-1 immediately. Additionally, many insurance companies offer roadside assistance. If you have a roadside assistance plan, call the carrier 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 off the roadway on the shoulder. Vehicles are equipped with multiple safety features that are designed to help 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, activate your warning lights, contact 9-1-1 and then assess the situation to determine 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.

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 prepare, assess, use good judgment and stay vigilant to ensure they make the best decisions based on their specific roadside emergency.

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.

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