As parents, you’re understandably anxious whenever your teen begins driving, exposed as they are to all sorts of dangerous situations on the road. Being involved with them every step of the way during their graduated driver licensing (GDL) and into their full-license stage is one way to alleviate some of your anxiety.
But what about preparing teens for how to safely handle a situation when their car breaks down? Here are some safety tips to share with your teen son or daughter – before they head out on the road.
Get the car off the road. – Being stranded on the street, highway or roadway is no place to leave your car when there’s a mechanical breakdown. If you have a suspicion that something’s going wrong with your car, like the engine is sputtering, or it sounds like there’s some kind of problem, you usually have time to steer the car off to the side of the road. If you don’t have time and the car just stops, the first thing to do is turn on your hazard lights. When you are on the side of the road, put the car in park, engage the emergency brake, and turn the steering wheel away from the road. Do not get out of the car.
Call for help. – Now that you’ve safely stopped the vehicle, make a call to someone who can get you help. This is probably your parents, or the AAA road service or other roadside assistance program that your parents told you about for this very purpose.
Make sure other drivers know you’re stranded. – The hazard lights are a good indication, but there’s something else you can do. When it’s safe to do so – no cars whizzing by – get out and raise the hood. If you have road flares, place a couple about 50 feet behind your car.
Stay with your car. – The roadways are very dangerous places and every year about 4,000 pedestrians are killed by vehicles. Beyond that, if you’ve called for help, say from AAA or another roadside assistance, they generally won’t be able to do anything if you’re not present.
Forget trying to do repairs on the spot. – Unless you’re really a mechanic with a full working knowledge of the car you’re driving, don’t try to fix what’s wrong yourself. This even applies to changing a flat tire, which can be pretty tricky, especially if you’ve only read about it and never had to do it before. Wait until a police officer shows up, just to be safe, since he can direct traffic away from your vehicle if you are trying to change the tire.
Remember to use your common sense. – While we’re all guilty of being a little hyper during a time that’s as frustrating and confusing as a car breakdown, it’s important to keep your cool so that the situation doesn’t endanger your safety. If you are on a quiet road with little traffic and you know the problem is that you just ran out of gas, you should still exercise caution before you get out and attempt to hike to a gas station you know is close by.
Be really cautious about strangers. – Your parents have probably drilled this into your brain since you were a toddler, but trusting strangers is very dangerous behavior. If someone you don’t know approaches you – while you are in your car – and the person isn’t wearing identification (AAA or other roadside assistance), do not roll down the window except for a crack and never get out of the car. Keep the doors locked and tell the person that help is on the way. If you need to, call the police.
Have an emergency kit in the car. – A final safety tip to help prepare you for the event of an emergency, including a car breakdown, is having an emergency kit in the car or the trunk. This kit should include flares, flashlight, batteries, water, a blanket, perhaps some non-perishable food items, a poncho, and other items. It’s better to be prepared, for you might be stranded for a while until help gets to you.