Americans drive so much that we often take it for granted that we'll reach our destination safely. But are you and your car prepared for an emergency? Here's what you should know:
Despite your best efforts, blowouts and breakdowns happen, says Angela Mickalide, PhD, program director of the National SAFE KIDS Campaign. Turn on the hazard lights, take your foot off the gas, steer to the side of the road, and then slowly brake. Try to get to the safest place possible off the road. If you are not able to get off the road, alert other motorists that you are stopped: Light flares, put up orange reflective safety triangles, and raise the hood. Next, call for assistance, or if another motorist stops, ask him to make the call for you. (Be very reluctant to get into a car with a stranger.) Roll down the windows and turn off the engine. Never change a tire on a busy road.
If you're not able to get the car off the road, you'll have to assess which is more risky: walking with the kids in dangerous traffic, or staying in the car and risking being hit from behind. If you elect to stay in the car, keep your kids in their car seats and remain buckled up yourself. You have a better chance of staying safe if you're all restrained.
If your car is operable, move it to the side or off the road, away from traffic. You might think you need to leave the cars where they stopped for the police report, but your number one priority is safety. Keep your child in her car seat and do not remove it from the vehicle. Put up flares or safety triangles to direct other cars away, and call the police. Even if the mishap seems minor, police will often call for an ambulance when a child is involved; let them check for injuries. You'll need to exchange quite a bit of information with the other motorists. Each driver should write down his name, address, phone number, driver's license number, and auto insurance information (the policyholder's name and the policy number). If you're not too shaken, also get the license plate number, make, and model of each car, and both the contact information and driver's license number of all the other passengers. Also try to get names and contact information for any witnesses.
The following items can be helpful in an emergency. Make sure to have them with you at all times:
____ Fully charged cell phone
____ Pencil and notebook
____ Vehicle operating manual
____ Emergency service information
____ Signal flag
____ Fix-a-flat solution
____ Flashlight with extra batteries
____ Drinking water and preserved snacks
____ Paper towels
____ Jumper cables
____ Flares, warning triangles, or reflectors
____ Windshield washer fluid
____ Tire pressure gauge
____ Ice scraper, snow brush, snow shovel, and sand for traction (if your climate demands)
____ Jack with flat board for soft surfaces
____ Tool kit that includes screwdriver, pliers, duct tape, adjustable wrench, lug wrench, and heavy gloves