Stranded Virginia motorist tells harrowing story

Melinda Ardinger asks fellow motorists to think twice. (WTOP/Kristi King)
Disabled car is a sitting duck on Route 7

wtopstaff | November 15, 2014 12:12 am

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WASHINGTON – Melinda Ardinger says she’s ashamed to call herself a Northern Virginian.

Last Friday, Ardinger was in her vehicle on Route 7 going toward the Reston/Herndon area when her car shut down at a stop light.

The electrical system had broken down, meaning she had no hazard lights, nothing.

She estimates that 70 to 100 cars drove by her during the 45 minutes that she sat there without asking if she needed assistance.

“I just got dirty looks, middle fingers,” she tells WTOP.

As cars zipped by at high speeds, the vehicle was a sitting duck.

After calling a tow truck herself, the service informed her she would be waiting about 25 more minutes.

Fortunately, Ardinger’s vehicle was not hit, and a police car eventually parked behind her car with its lights flashing to shield her from oncoming traffic.

John Townsend, AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman says Ardinger’s situation is the worst possible for a motorist.

“We as motorists have a social contract,” he says.

“When we see people in those situations, we need to give them grace, and allow them an exit so they can get themselves out of harm’s way and to a safe haven.”

Townsend has some best practices for drivers in a threatened vehicle.

If your car is about to shut down, what should you do?

  1. Pull off the highway onto the shoulder.
  2. Turn on the hazard lights.
  3. If you can safely leave the car, pop the hood (as a signal of distress).
  4. Put a handkerchief or ribbon on the antennae, if possible.
  5. Stand away from traffic lanes and out of harm’s way.
  6. Car AAA or an emergency service.

What to do in Melinda’s case (no shut down warning and no car electricity)?

  1. Get out of the car, if it’s safe.
  2. Try to warn other cars of the stopped vehicle by popping the hood, if you can safely do so.
  3. Stand away from traffic lanes and out of harm’s way.
  4. Car AAA or an emergency service.

Ardinger hopes that people do more than make ill-favored gestures in the future – maybe even stop.

“I hope WTOP can tell my story so that maybe drivers will think twice about a person in a disabled car,” she writes.

“Remember it could happen to you or a loved one.”

WTOP’s Kristi King contributed to this report. Follow @kingWTOP and @WTOP on Twitter.

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