Americans are incredibly reliant on their motor vehicles, but all too often fail to grasp the real risks they face whenever they step behind the wheel. Apart from car accidents, drivers also face risks for emergencies that run the gamut from unexpected road closures, traffic delays and time-sensitive evacuations to vehicle breakdowns, poor roadway conditions and natural disasters.
In honor of National Preparedness Month, The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C., is taking some time to remind everyone about the importance of planning for unpredictable events on the road.
How to Prepare Your Vehicle for Emergencies
Emergencies can strike at any time, which is why it’s so important to plan ahead and ensure you’re prepared to handle the unexpected while keeping yourself and those around you safe.
Whether you’re planning a road trip, use your car on a regular basis, or are likely to have your vehicle nearby in the event of a non-road-related emergency, preparedness begins with a few simple steps:
- Keep up with maintenance on your vehicle, especially if it hasn’t been driven much or you’re planning a longer trip.
- Have a mechanic check the essentials, including your brakes, oil, fuel, air filters, headlights and hazard lights, windshield wipers, battery and ignition system, and more.
- Keep your gas tank as full as possible in case of evacuations or unexpected emergencies. A full tank can also help keep fuel lines from freezing.
- Check your tire pressure once a month, including your spare, and regularly inspect your tire tread to track wear and tear. You can use a penny to check your tread; if you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, it’s time for new tires.
- Be aware of any recent weather events, including flooded areas or recently flooded areas, along your planned route or usual commute. Just six inches of water can cause vehicles to stall or lose control, and a foot of water is enough to float many cars. Flooding can also weaken roads to the point of collapse.
- Keep a roadside emergency kit in your vehicle at all times.
You can learn more about keeping your car maintained and prepared for emergencies from Aceable’s vehicle maintenance guide.
What to Pack in a Car Emergency Kit
Having a vehicle emergency preparedness kit in your car is a simple way to ensure you’ll have what you need to handle unexpected situations, whether that means bad weather, traffic jams, or a personal emergency suffered by you or one of your passengers.
Some essentials you should always have on hand:
- A cell phone and charger to call for help. Even without active service, a working cell phone can still call 911.
- A tire repair kit that includes a correctly sized spare, lug-nut wrench, wheel lock key (if your vehicle has wheel locks), and working car jack to replace or repair flats.
- Road flares that can be placed behind and in front of your vehicle if it breaks down on or near a road. Road flares and emergency reflective markers help alert other drivers that may be approaching you and / or your vehicle.
- A flashlight, lantern, or light stick to help you see and be seen if your vehicle breaks down at night. You can also pack batteries separately to avoid accidentally draining them.
- First aid: A well-stocked first-aid kit can come in handy on or off the road. Purchase a roadside first aid kit or make your own with some simple necessities, including band-aids, pain relievers, antiseptic, antihistamines, digestive aids and other items you may need in unexpected delays or minor emergencies.
- Food and water: Keeping non-perishable snacks and water in your car can be helpful if roads are closed due to weather, or in the event of emergencies away from the beaten path.
- Cold weather protection: In New York and other places that reach freezing temps, it’s smart to carry a blanket, extra coat and hand-warmer pouches in case you get stuck or are unable to use your vehicle’s heater.
- Tools: A few carefully chosen tools can get you out of many jams. A folding shovel and bag of kitty litter, for example, can help you dislodge a stubborn wheel stuck in soft or wet dirt. An adjustable wrench can help you quickly fix loose connections, and jumper cables can help you start a dead battery. Snow chains are required for some winter roads.
COVID-19 Vehicle Safety Tips
- Skip the mask if you’re alone: While cloth face coverings should be worn to protect yourself and others around you, including any passengers in your vehicle, it’s not necessary if you’re driving alone, and can potentially hinder your ability to drive safely, especially if you wear glasses that may become fogged when you breathe. You should still keep a mask in your car at all times to ensure you have a spare nearby and should put your mask on when exiting the vehicle or when ordering and receiving items from drive-thru windows.
- Vehicle maintenance: If you are among the millions of Americans who have transitioned to remote work during the pandemic, your vehicle is likely not getting the same use it did before. While cutting out your commute can save on gas and auto insurance, it can also cause your vehicle to remain un-driven for periods of time, which can cause the battery to die, oil to leak or deteriorate, and problems with fuel systems, among other issues. Be sure to regularly maintain your vehicle by checking tire pressure, fluids, and the battery regularly.
- Stay safe with passengers: Medical experts resoundingly agree that social distancing is critical to reducing the spread of COVID-19. Unfortunately, maintaining 6-feet of space is difficult in a passenger vehicle. If you must travel with others, be sure to choose your passengers wisely (and preferably keep them to the small social group you’ve maintained during the pandemic) and have everyone in the vehicle wear a mask.
- Keep practicing safe driving habits: Though roadways have been less hectic during the pandemic, the National security Council reports they have been more lethal, with a nearly 40% increase in fatal car wrecks per miles driven in April 2020 as compared to April 2019. Because experts suggest this has a lot to do with higher speeds, more impaired drivers, and work-from-home motorists whose driving skills are a bit “rusty,” it’s in your best interests to practice safe driving habits whenever you’re on the road. In addition to defensive driving and keeping your guard up, you can also practice driving in emergency situations, right-of-way etiquette and local traffic laws to maintain your confidence if you’ve been driving less frequently.
- Keep your car sanitized: In pandemic times, our cars are in many ways portals to our homes, and the first thing that comes into contact with groceries and supplies from the “outside” world. Cars can also carry a lot of bacteria; in fact, the average steering wheel can hold as much as 4x more bacteria than a toilet seat. Because human hands can come into contact with just about anything, it’s smart to regularly clean and disinfect your vehicle, especially after heading out and returning home. Keep some sanitizer or bacteria-killing wipes in your vehicle at all times and use them anytime you run into a store, pump gas, or bring items in and out of your car.
Steps to Take If You’re Involved in an Accident
Some emergencies are more than we can handle on our own. Following a motor vehicle accident, for example, it’s always important to call 911 so that law enforcement and emergency medical responders can provide needed assistance. Taking everyone’s information, if you’re able, gives you a place to start when it comes time for recovering your damages from at-fault parties. Of course, working with a lawyer can also help you navigate the post-accident process and protect your right to file a personal injury claim.
If you or someone you love has been harmed in a preventable crash, our experienced attorneys at The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C., are readily available to discuss what happened and whether you may have the right to pursue a financial recovery of your damages. Contact us to request a free consultation.