Special Problems and Emergencies

What to Do if a Collision Occurs

Talk to your teen about what to do in the event of a collision. What to do as a witness or as someone involved in a collision is noted in the California Driver Handbook. Make sure your teen knows what to do if a collision happens.

When You Hear a Siren

When a fire truck, ambulance, police vehicle, or other emergency vehicle approaches from behind with its siren on, pull over as far as practical to the right side of the road. Stop until the emergency vehicle passes. However, never stop in an intersection. Continue through the intersection and then pull to the right as soon as you can. Failure to pull over may result in a violation citation. Sometimes, the driver of an emergency vehicle will use a loudspeaker to direct a driver blocking the road.

Motorcycles, Bicycles, Scooters, Etc.

Be aware that because they are small—motorcycles, bicycles, scooters, and skateboards—can be difficult to see.

When You See a School Bus

When you see flashing red lights on a school bus, stop at a safe distance away from the school bus, and remain stopped until the red lights stop flashing. Traffic in both directions must stop unless the roadway is divided by a median. School buses are now required to flash the red lights at all stops.
Be cautious around stopped school buses, even if the red lights have stopped flashing. Assume a child might dart out in front of you. Suggestion: Treat school buses as school zones. Drive 25 mph or less when children are present.

Railroad Crossings

When you drive close to a railroad crossing, look and listen for trains in both directions. Be ready to stop, if necessary. You should expect a train on a track at any time, day or night. Never stop on a railroad track. Usually by the time a train sees you, it will be too late for it to stop.
When traffic is heavy, wait off the tracks until you are sure you can drive over the tracks without stopping.

When You Cannot See Because of Fog, Rain, or Snow

The best advice for driving in the fog is “DON’T.” Do not use your high-beam headlights in the fog because they create glare and reduce visibility. Only use your low-beam headlights in the fog. Consider postponing your trip until the fog clears.
If you must drive, then slow down and turn on your low-beam headlights. Never drive with just your parking or fog lights. Increase your following distance and be prepared to stop within the space you can see in front of your vehicle. Avoid crossing or passing lanes of traffic unless absolutely necessary. Listen for traffic you cannot see. Use your wipers and defroster as necessary for best vision.
If the fog becomes so thick that you can barely see, pull completely off the road. Do not continue driving until you can see better. Turn off your lights or someone may see your taillights and drive into you.
In a very heavy rain or snowstorm, you may not be able to see more than 100 feet ahead. When you cannot see any farther than that, you cannot safely drive faster than 30 mph. You may have to stop from time to time to wipe mud or snow off your windshield, headlights, and taillights.
When you drive in snowy areas, carry chains in case you find yourself in conditions where you cannot drive without them. Make sure you carry the correct number of chains and that they will fit your drive wheels. Learn how to put the chains on before you need to use them.
Slow down at the first sign of rain, drizzle, or snow on the road. This is when many road pavements are most slippery because oil and dust have not been washed away.
Turn on your lights when visibility is poor—even in the daylight hours.
Note: You must turn on your headlights if snow, rain, fog, or low visibility (1,000 feet or less) require the continuous use of windshield wipers.

Driving on Slippery Roads

When you drive on wet, icy, gravel, or dirt roads you should:

  • Drive more slowly and stay farther behind the vehicle ahead.
  • Slow down as you approach curves and intersections.
  • Avoid quick stops. “Pump” the brakes to slow or stop.
  • Avoid fast turns.
  • Shift into a lower gear before going down a steep hill.
  • If your brakes get wet, dry them by pressing the gas and brake pedals at the same time so that the vehicle drives against the pressure of the brakes.
  • Avoid especially slippery areas, such as ice patches, wet leaves, oil, and deep puddles.

Driving in Wind

Drive slower than normal when it is very windy. Lighter vehicles, vans, and trucks with broad, high sides are sometimes blown out of their lane. House trailers are in special danger of shifting. If possible, avoid driving next to other vehicles. Grasp the steering wheel firmly. Be prepared to correct steering as wind force changes. Keep the windows closed.

Quick Stops and Skids

Avoid sudden stops. If your vehicle has four-wheel ABS, apply firm pressure on the brake pedal.
Note: To determine if a vehicle has ABS, review your owner’s manual. There may also be an illuminated ABS symbol on your dashboard immediately after starting the engine.
If you stop quickly or your vehicle begins to skid, and your vehicle:

  • Has just rear-wheel ABS (common in light trucks), ease up on the brake pedal with just enough pressure to allow the front wheels to roll again so you can steer.
  • Has rear-wheel drive and goes into a skid, stop braking and turn the steering wheel into the direction of the skid.
  • Has front-wheel drive, steer where you want to go and carefully accelerate to keep the vehicle moving.
  • Does not have ABS, lightly and briefly “pump” the brakes. To pump the brakes, you should:
    • 1. Push the brake pedal hard.
    • 2. As the vehicle begins to skid, quickly let up on the brake. Push it down again quickly.
    • 3. Use this quick, pumping action until the vehicle is stopped.

If Your Brakes Fail

If your brakes fail, you should:

  • Downshift into a lower gear.
  • If your vehicle:
    • Has four-wheel ABS, apply firm pressure on the brake pedal.
    • Has just rear-wheel ABS (common in light trucks), ease up on the brake pedal with just enough pressure to allow the front wheels to roll again.
    • Does not have an ABS, pump the brake pedal.
  • Apply the parking brake, but be ready to release it if the vehicle begins to skid.
  • Remember you can still steer and swerve. You could steer into bushes or something soft.
  • Sound your horn and flash your lights to warn other drivers.
  • When you no longer need to change direction and have stopped, turn off the ignition. (Turning off the key locks the steering wheel of many vehicles, – so do NOT turn off the ignition until you come to a complete stop.)

Driving in Extreme Heat

  • Watch the temperature gauge for overheating.
  • Avoid driving at high speeds for long periods.
  • Use low gear in “creeping” traffic.
  • Turn off the air conditioner, if the engine is overheating.


If water on the road is deeper than the tread of the tires, a fast moving vehicle may glide over the water and not touch the road surface. This condition is called hydroplaning. If you can see reflections on the pavement, or the vehicle ahead leaves no tracks on the water, your vehicle could hydroplane. To avoid hydroplaning:

  • Drive slowly.
  • Maintain good tire tread.
  • Have your tires properly inflated.
  • If possible, steer around water.
  • If you hear a sloshing sound from the tires, especially when changing directions, slow down.

Driving in Extreme Cold

If you have not added antifreeze, the water in the radiator may be freezing. Your engine will overheat if this happens. After starting the engine, watch the temperature gauge for signs of overheating. Use the defroster or slightly open your windows to keep them from “fogging up.”

Tire Blowout

Teach your teen to always keep both hands on the wheel. If a tire goes flat suddenly, you need both hands to control the vehicle. If you have a sudden tire blowout, you should:

  • Hold the steering wheel tightly and steer straight ahead.
  • Slow down gradually. Take your foot off the gas pedal slowly, but do not hit the brakes
  • Let the vehicle slow to a stop, completely off the road.
  • Apply the brakes when the vehicle is almost stopped.

When You Are Stuck in Snow or Mud

  • Shift into a low gear and keep the front wheels straight.
  • Gently step on the gas pedal.
  • Avoid spinning the wheels. Drive forward as far as possible.
  • Shift into reverse and slowly back up as far as possible. Do not spin the wheels.
  • Shift into a low gear again and drive forward.
  • Repeat a forward-backward motion until the vehicle rolls free.
  • In deep mud or snow, put boards, tree branches, etc., under the tires. Never do this when the tires are spinning.

You may avoid getting stuck if you always carry chains in your vehicle. Put chains on the tires before driving in snow or mud.

Stuck Accelerator

If your accelerator becomes stuck, you should:

  • Shift to neutral.
  • Apply the brakes.
  • Keep your eyes on the road.
  • Look for a way out.
  • Warn other drivers by honking and flashing your emergency lights.
  • Try to drive the vehicle safely off the road.
  • When you no longer need to change direction and have stopped, turn off the ignition. (Turning off the key locks the steering wheel of many vehicles, – so do NOT turn off the ignition until you come to a complete stop.)