Early in January, 2006, a Florida Firefighter was killed on his way to work in Broward County. Captain James Dahlin experienced car trouble on I-95 on his way to the firehouse. When he pulled his car over and got out to tend to the problem, he was struck by a large truck and killed. This loss was tough for firefighters everywhere because they all follow similar routines - early shifts have them on the road before dawn, commuting on highways, sometimes from long distances. They're out there when it's dark and there is little help in case of emergency.
In reality, though, this tragedy should be felt by every driver and passenger. Most people will experience car trouble at some time and will have to pull over to try and fix the problem or find help.
While emergencies cannot be predicted, you can help minimize the likelihood of problems by making sure that you maintain your vehicle regularly and never delay attending to a known or suspected problem.
Any car, even cars with impeccable maintenance can experience unexpected breakdowns. You can also find yourself disabled on the side of the road following a collision. If a collision is minor and the vehicles can be moved out of traffic, you should do so.
Things to consider to prepare yourself in the event of an emergency:
- Know your limitations and plan accordingly. If you're not mechanically inclined (and few are these days), consider a membership in a reliable motor club and be certain to always have a cell phone available to call for help.
- Maintain a car emergency kit in your vehicles. These should include flares, reflective triangles, flashlights and extra batteries, a tool set, gloves, water, a blanket, and a first aid kit.
- If you experience car trouble or are involved in a minor accident, turn on your hazard lights and do everything possible to make your way to the shoulder and out of the flow of traffic. Call for help immediately.
- Move away from the traffic lanes to put as much space as possible between you and fast-moving cars. Keep your hazard lights on and open the hood of your car and leave it open - an open hood is the universal sign of a car in distress.
- If you have flares or reflective markers, position them beginning at your car and set them at intervals going at least 200 feet in the direction of the traffic that is coming toward you. Keep a constant eye on traffic while outside your vehicle.
- If there is a safe area outside of the car and farther away from traffic lanes, wait for help outside of the car. If not, stay inside your vehicle. NEVER stand behind a disabled vehicle that's near moving traffic.
- Never attempt to fix or work on a car in a dangerous location. This includes any time the disabled vehicle is near moving traffic or on a soft shoulder.
- If you suspect a fire somewhere in your car - get yourself and all occupants out immediately. Find a safe place away from the car to call and wait for help. Do not waste time attempting to locate the fire. Vehicle fires can advance rapidly.
- If your car breaks down or is involved in an accident after dark, the danger level rises significantly. Visibility is poor and drivers are less alert at night - take extremes care to stay clear of traffic lanes and assume that drivers cannot see you.
You should never underestimate the danger of being disabled near moving traffic. There are few drivers on the road today with more knowledge and experience in emergencies than emergency responders. Still, tragically, several are killed annually. It only takes a matter of seconds for tragedy to strike.