How to safely stop on a highway shoulder in an emergency

We’ve all seen those viral dashcam videos of a car careening off the main highway and hitting another car or person parked on a highway shoulder. These videos are striking reminders of the dangerous situations that can arise from parking on a highway shoulder. The number of pedestrian deaths from motor vehicles accounts for approximately 16% of car crash deaths. Pedestrian deaths on highway shoulders account for a small percentage of those deaths. These deaths are commonly caused by driver error and driver distractions. While these situations may seem cut and dry when it comes to fault and liability, pedestrians are required to exercise a certain level of care. If the pedestrian’s own conduct fails to meet these standards, there is a possibility that they can see their recovery reduced.

Is it legal to pull over on a highway shoulder?

Texas law takes into consideration that people may need to pull over on the highway for various reasons. In other words, if you are having car trouble or some other emergency, you can lawfully pull over to the shoulder of the highway. In many cases, that’s what the highway shoulder is for. Parking on the shoulder ensures that a driver is not blocking the flow of traffic and is the preferable act over stopping in a lane. In fact, the Texas code states that a vehicle may park, stop or stand in the following situations:

  1. Stopping, parking or leaving the vehicle off the main traveled part of the highway is not practicable.
  2. A width of the highway beside the vehicle is unobstructed and open for the passage of other vehicles; and
  3. The vehicle is in clear view for at least 200 feet in each direction on the highway.

It is never a safe practice to stop along the roadways, however, when there is an emergency, these stops may be necessary. 

Why is pulling over on the highway shoulder so dangerous?

Estimates suggest that at least 600 people a year are killed in highway pedestrian deaths. It seems counterintuitive that a space on the highway meant to ensure safety is actually fairly unsafe for pedestrians. However, crashes can occur on the highway shoulder for the following reasons:

Pulling to the shoulder is typically your best bet when you are unable to get to an exit, your best bet is to move to the shoulder. When other drivers on the road are careless, this can put you in serious danger.

Tips for stopping on the highway shoulder

Being a pedestrian on a highway shoulder is extremely dangerous. For this reason, if you are not in an emergency, do not stop on the shoulder. But, if you are in an emergency the following guidelines will reduce your risk of injuries.

Take your foot off the accelerator

When you run into trouble on the road, don’t slam the brakes. You never what other drivers are doing behind you and if they’re paying attention or not. Instead, gently and smoothly take your foot off the accelerator.

Signal your intentions to drivers around you

There is nothing scarier (or annoying) than a driver who cuts into your lane without warning. Don’t do it to others. If you have an emergency of some sort and need to pull over, use your blinkers to warn other drivers that you are intending to switch lanes.

Drive to the nearest exit, if possible

In the event of a flat tire, many people want to stop immediately to avoid bent rims. However, a couple of hundred dollars for repairs is worth it when you consider the deadly risks on a highway shoulder.

Pull to the right side

The right lane is typically the slowest lane. Because high speeds limit reaction times and visibility, slower is generally safer. This means that drivers in the right lane will likely be able to

Pull off the road as far as possible

This seems like common sense, however many people fail to follow through on this. Even when the shoulder is wide enough, you should try to pull over as far as possible. It’s best to put as much space as possible between your car and the roadway. In fact, if the ground next to the pavement is even, you may want to consider pulling off the shoulder entirely.

Put the parking brake on

Ensuring your parking brake is on will keep your vehicle from easily rolling if hit.

Stand on the opposite side of the roadway

If a car does come careening off the road and plows into your car, you want to be standing on the other side of the car. In fact, it is in your best interest to stand a couple of hundred feet away from the vehicle and off to the side. A car traveling at a high speed can push a stopped car hundreds of feet.

Make sure you’re visible

Often, accidents occur because drivers simply don’t see that someone is on the side of the road. Flags, flares and other hazard indicators can warn others of your presence on the highway shoulder. Especially, at night.

Call for help immediately

If you don’t have the equipment to change your tire or spend several minutes trying to start your car—call a tow truck. Every minute you are on the side of the highway puts you at serious risk. Your priority should be your safety, not your car and not saving money. If you’ve been trying to start a disabled car, call a tow company.

In addition, consider the safety of others on highway shoulders when you’re behind the wheel. Whenever possible, move over to the next lane. In fact, if there is an emergency vehicle on the shoulder, Texas law requires you to move over to the next lane or slow to at least 20 mph below the posted speed limit.

Keep up with vehicle maintenance to avoid shoulder stops

The best way to avoid highway shoulder pedestrian crashes is to reduce the likelihood of needing to pull over on the shoulder. This is particularly true during the summer when people take longer road trips.  America’s vast network of highways. Without basic car maintenance, you may end up in a situation where you are broken down on the side of the road.

Check your vehicle’s coolant

One of the many reasons your vehicle may breakdown on the road is from overheating. The effects of poor coolant maintenance can be catastrophic and irreversible. Coolant ensure that your vehicle

Ensure tires are properly inflated and without

Tires are, arguably, the most important part of your vehicle. They are your first line of defense for both performance and safety. Worn or underinflated tires can be a ticking time bomb, leading to blowouts on highways and interstates.

Look at your brakes

Brake pads are particularly susceptible to extreme thermal cycling. Massive temperature drops from high heat to freezing temperature can cause brake pads to wear and crack. Before hitting the road, take your tires off to look at your brak pads. Ensure your brake pads don’t have crumbling edges or heavy discoloration. In addition, checking your brake fluid is just as important. If your brake fluid degrades in any way, it can reduce braking performance and, in serious cases, complete brake failure.

Transmission fluid

Vehicles with an automatic transmission have automatic transmission fluid. Your transmission fluid should be at the level recommended by the manufacturer and a bright shade of red. Too much fluid can lead to overpressure problems, while too little can burn out your torque converter.

Routine oil changes

An oil change consists of removing old oil from a vehicle’s engine and replacing it with new fresh oil. This helps keep your vehicle lubricated and absorbing heat. Oil allows the internal parts to work together effectively without overheating. Changing the oil before it breaks down will lessen the likelihood of major engine troubles.

Check for recalls

Recalls ensure safety by address failures to meet federal minimum standards. Manufacturers make voluntary recalls ensure that a safety issue is addressed prior to causing serious injuries or fatalities because of a defect.

The best way to avoid dangerous highway shoulder stops is to keep your vehicle operating at its best. Before you hit the road this summer, make sure to check your car for any flaws.

We care. We can help.

People take more road trips during the summer months. Without properly caring for their vehicle, they run the risk of highway shoulder pedestrian crashes. Unfortunately, injuries stemming from these types of crashes can lead to complex situations for victims. It is important that pedestrians on the highway use an appropriate level of care to protect themselves in these situations. Keep yourself and your loved ones safe.

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