After crashes, breakdowns, experts says it’s ‘safest to remain inside of your vehicle’

People being killed on roadways while outside their vehicles happens all too frequently; it happened Sunday on Interstate 95 in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and last week on Interstate 495 in Fairfax County, Virginia.

A D.C.-area traffic safety advocate has advice related to crashes and breakdowns.

“If you must exit the vehicle, never stand behind or directly in front of it to help avoid injuries if your car is actually struck by another vehicle,” said Ragina Ali, Public and Government Affairs manager for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Ali added that if you “have a crash and you’re in the middle of the traffic lane” or “if you become disabled in a traffic lane” the safest thing to do is pull over, if possible.

In most cases, it’s best to pull off to the right side of the road as far as possible while remaining on level ground. Some other tips include:

  • On a multiple lane highway with medians, you may consider using the left side to get as far away from traffic as possible.
  • Note your vehicle’s location to relay the information to first responders or roadside assistance.
  • Pull off the road into an area as well lit as possible.
  • Remain in the car with windows up as far as comfortably possible to avoid hazards kicked up by passing traffic.
  • Keep doors locked and avoid opening the door to strangers.
  • Turn on emergency flashers especially at night or in inclement weather.
  • If you can do so quickly, raise the vehicle’s hood.
  • If you can place flares or warning triangles behind your car, to direct oncoming traffic away from the vehicle.
  • If you have a brightly colored handkerchief or scarf, tie it to the antenna or door handle.

“If you choose to exit that vehicle, you want to do so safely and well away from oncoming traffic and your vehicle. If possible you and your passenger should exit through the side of the vehicle that’s facing away from the road. But again, in most circumstances, it’s safest to remain inside of your vehicle,” Ali said.

Drivers have a role to play too.

“It’s incumbent upon all of us as motorists to pay attention when we’re driving, to focus on the task of driving, to be considerate of other drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists; and that we’re sharing the road safely,” Ali said. “It’s dangerous when you break down on the side of the road. It’s a scary situation.”

The Move Over law — on the books in some form or fashion in every state — requires drivers to slow down and move over if emergency, law enforcement, tow truck, utility and or transportation vehicles are stopped, standing or parked on a highway with warning lights flashing.

“In Maryland, the law applies basically now to everyone,” Ali said.

Maryland is one of eight states that require motorists to move over even for disabled civilian vehicles that are roadside with flashing warning lights.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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