A flat tyre, brake failure or momentary loss of control can happen to anyone, so it’s a good idea to be prepared for any eventuality. In this guide we tell you how to react in a driving emergency to keep yourself and your passengers safe.
Two golden rules in all situations
Try to keep as calm as possible in emergency situations as this will help you to make the right decisions. Your aim, of course, is to keep your vehicle and passengers safe and knowing a few basic reflexes can make all the difference.
Two rules for keeping control of your car:
- Use the steering wheel before braking.
- Avoid abrupt steering at high speeds.
You should also remember to turn on your hazard lights as quickly as possible to warn other motorists that you are in difficulty.
Flat tyre: what to do
A sudden puncture or tyre blowout can be very dangerous, particularly if driving at high speeds. Here’s what to do when faced with this sort of emergency:
- Keep calm and above all do not slam on the brakes.
- Grip the wheel with both hands to keep your vehicle straight while it slows down.
- Once your vehicle is under control, change down a gear to slow down and gradually come to a stop.
- Select a safe place and if possible a flat area to park up.
Stop as soon as possible in a safe place, engage the handbrake and leave the vehicle in gear, then take stock of the situation.
Next, start fitting the spare tyre. Once you have fitted your spare tyre, your speed is limited to 50mph and we advise you to change the tyre as soon as possible.
If you drive on a flat or blown-out tyre, be aware that it will be irreparable.
Brake failure: how to react
Obviously, it’s best to avoid finding yourself in this situation in the first place by regularly getting your brakes checked and getting into the habit of testing them yourself. You can do this by pressing the brake pedal several times before going down a steep hill or after driving through water. That being said, if your brakes do fail, it is absolutely vital that you follow these safety rules:
- Keep calm and turn on your hazard lights.
- If you are driving at under 20 mph, you can gently use your handbrake to slow the vehicle down.
- If your speed is over 20 mph, use your handbrake with care because you risk locking the wheels and losing control of your vehicle. Gradually change down the gears to reduce your speed.
- As far as possible, use your surrounding environment to help you slow down your vehicle (slopes, gravel etc.)
- Stop in a suitable place once your vehicle is under control: park on the hard shoulder or on a verge and protect yourself from being hit by other vehicles (take refuge behind the safety barrier, for example) as roadsides are extremely dangerous.
What should you do if you lose control of your vehicle?
Your vehicle keeps itself balanced on four wheels when you are driving. However, this balance may be upset by certain manoeuvres, such as abrupt braking or accelerating too quickly, whether on a bend or a straight section of road.
On a straight section of road
Here’s what to do if you lose control of your vehicle when travelling on a straight section of road:
- Keep calm and firmly hold the wheel with both hands.
- Gradually release the accelerator.
- Do not brake abruptly and above all do not use your handbrake. Gradually change down the gears to reduce your speed.
- If your vehicle skids, turn the wheel to correct the loss of grip and maintain your vehicle’s course.
On a bend
When your vehicle turns, the centrifugal force drags its weight to the outside of the bend. This can lead to oversteer with the rear of the vehicle losing its grip due to worn rear tyres or abrupt braking.
How to react in this situation:
- Don’t panic and start by declutching to better distribute the weight of the vehicle.
- Steer in the direction you wish to go.
- Release the brake pedal and change down gears to reduce your speed.
- Never use the handbrake in this situation.
You may also lose control of your car if you accelerate sharply when going round a corner. In this case, the opposite happens: on a front-wheel drive vehicle, accelerating causes the front wheels to lose traction meaning you may be faced with understeer (the front of your car loses its grip when turning). On a rear-wheel drive, accelerating on a bend can lead to oversteer.
How to correct understeer:
- Keep calm and do not turn the steering wheel any further.
- Release the accelerator and brake gently.
- If you have a front-wheel drive (the power from the engine is transmitted to the front wheels), fully declutch to restore the weight onto the front wheels.