Watch closely for disabled vehicles on the road, especially as the days grow shorter and commutes become darker. Inconspicuous stalled cars – and drivers who can’t spot them before it’s too late – contribute to thousands of serious accidents, according to a recent study reported by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
Using nationwide crash statistics, researchers estimate that over 14,000 injuries and 500 fatalities result every year from collisions with disabled vehicles that oncoming drivers didn’t see. Among “failure to spot” fatalities, half are drivers of disabled vehicles who have gotten out of their cars, the study said.
IIHS notes that given the size of the problem, these types of accidents probably haven’t gotten as much attention as they deserve and merit work to reduce their frequency.
For now, though, the big takeaway is to see and be seen – especially as we lose daylight going into fall. These are good places to start:
- Always use hazard lights if your car is disabled. Among vehicles hit in the study, two-thirds did not have them on.
- Don’t stop on the road’s shoulder if you can make it to a parking lot. You’re much safer without traffic whizzing by.
- Weigh the risk of staying in your car versus getting out. In most situations, the safest choice is staying belted in your car with the doors locked as you await emergency responders or roadside assistance.
- Understand your state’s “move over” laws. Both Washington and Oregon require drivers on multilane roads to yield to emergency vehicles on the shoulder by moving into the adjacent lane (when safe to do so), giving them a margin of safety. Drivers on two-lane roads should slow down and, if the oncoming lane is clear, swing over to give the emergency vehicle extra space. While the laws are aimed at improving safety for police officers, tow truck drivers and other responders, it’s a good idea to do it for the disabled car even before emergency vehicles arrive.
- Use high beams more frequently. Drivers use their high beams less than half as often as they should on dark, rural roads, according to a joint study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the University of Michigan. High beams double drivers’ ability to see objects ahead of them, giving about 400 feet of visibility compared with around 200 feet for low beams. You can use your high beams any time there are no oncoming vehicles and when you’re more than 300 feet behind another car.
- Reduce speeds in foggy or other conditions with poor visibility.
- Avoid distraction or any kind of impairment. Do not look at your phone while driving.