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16 Scary Driving Scenarios and Exactly How to Handle Them

Updated: May 10, 2023

Often when driving, we encounter situations that are out of our control. Make the right decisions when in a tight spot with these tips.

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steering wheel scary driving car
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Scary Driving Scenarios

Learning how to drive is a very intense practice. After all, you’re out there on the road and anything can happen. You can only control what you’re doing, but what if nature or other drivers have other ideas? Make sure you take the necessary precautions and know what to do in these scary driving scenarios. While you’re on the road, these are the 10 car sounds you should never ignore.

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A stop sign against a blue sky.
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You’re at a four-way stop

Whoever arrives at the stop sign first has the right of way, says David Nunn, Land Rover Experience Manager. When you and another driver pull up to different points of the intersection at seemingly the exact same time, yield to the driver on the right. Although road signs can be confusing, all drivers involved should come out unscathed. However, these crazy things people have done while driving will shock you.

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yellow stop light
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The stoplight just turned yellow

If the light turns yellow as you’re approaching an intersection, use your judgment to determine the best course of action. Never go through a yellow light if you think you can stop safely before the light turns red. These are things you’re doing that your car mechanics wouldn’t.

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Roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) On the road.

If a deer jumps in front of your car…

While it’s natural to be momentarily overcome with terror, do your best to stay calm. “Keep both hands securely on the wheel, apply the brakes firmly, and never swerve,” Nunn says. (He recommends using a “shuffle steer,” where you shuffle your hands along the steering wheel, even when you turn, versus taking one hand off to rotate the wheel to maintain maximum control of your vehicle.) Swerving in an attempt not to hit an animal is dangerous because you could hit a car in the neighboring lane or run off the road right into a tree.

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If the sun is blinding you…

Try to limit your reaction as much as possible. Don’t slam on the brakes or swerve, as this could pose a danger to both yourself and other drivers around you. Do your best to continue on your path and remain predictable to other drivers. This is just one of the things they should teach in Driver’s Ed, like these driving etiquette rules you’ve probably forgotten since you took the class.

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tailgating rearview mirror dangerous driving
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When another driver is tailgating your car…

If a car behind you is tailgating and honking, pull over and let it by; it may be a legitimate emergency. If a car is tailgating you on the highway for no apparent reason, pull over to the right-hand lane as soon as it’s safe for you to do so and let the driver pass. Even when it’s not your “fault,” it is unsafe to travel with another vehicle at such close proximity. While you’re on the road, these are the 14 etiquette rules most people ignore–but shouldn’t.

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car street road traffic transport

If you spot an impaired driver ahead

If the car ahead of you is swerving and the driver appears to be impaired by drugs or alcohol, give him plenty of room and do not tailgate. Pay close attention, but don’t fixate on the vehicle. If it’s safe for you to do so while driving, note the car’s license plate and call 911 to report the issue.

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Tornado down the road near Stuart, NE on June 9th 2003.
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If there’s an approaching tornado

While your instinct may be to pull over under an overpass to wait it out, you may still be potentially exposed to the dangers of flying debris. If traffic is light, try driving out of the tornado’s path by moving at a right angle away from the vortex. If not, park and make your way inside a sturdy building. If you’re in open country, exit the car and try to get as far from any trees, cars, or other large structures and lie face down, covering your head with your arms, and make sure you know these things you should never do during an emergency.

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empty gas tank gas guage
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If your car is running on empty

Even though you should never drive with less than a quarter tank of gas in the car, sometimes there isn’t time to fill up on gas and then the gas light comes on indicating you’re almost out of gas. If this happens, the experts at the Ford Driving Skills for Life Team (Ford DSFL) tells Reader’s Digest that you should “keep your gas tank close to full whenever possible, and, on longer trips, always plan enough time to stop to stretch, get something to eat, return calls or text messages, and change drivers or rest if you feel drowsy.” However, if the worst-case scenario has already happened and you’re already on the road on empty, they recommend pulling over to the side of the road in a safe area. “Try to avoid running out of fuel in the middle of the road, and in the event that you do, stay in your car while getting help. You should also make sure to turn your hazard lights on, put your car in park and use your e-brake.” When you do park, make sure you follow these 9 smart tips for fighting a parking ticket.

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flat tire blown out tire
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When the tire blows out

Having a tire blow out is one of the ultimate scary driving situations. Never fear, though, as the experts at the Ford Driving Skills for Life Team have a workable solution. “If it happens to you, try not to panic. Next, gradually reduce your speed by coming off the gas and even braking lightly.  You can then find a safe spot to steer the car off the road.” It matters whether the front tire or the back tire goes out. “If a front tire blows out, it will make steering difficult and may even pull you in a direction you don’t want to go. Keep a firm grip on the wheel and steer in the direction you need to, but avoid jerking the wheel abruptly.” Make sure you know this one-second tire test that could save your life.

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icey car road
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If you’re driving in icy or snowy conditions

Preparing for snowy conditions starts before you get in the car and start driving. The Ford Driving Skills for Life Team experts recommend clearing off your car before you hit the road. “If your car is covered in snow, it’s important that before you start driving, you clean off your taillights, headlights, and windows, as well as the roof. If you don’t, there’s a chance you could be blinded when a pile of snow comes slipping down over your field of view.”

Not clearing the snow off your car poses a risk not only to you but also to the drivers around you. “Snow blowing off vehicles can cause near whiteout conditions for drivers behind you. Michigan has a law making it illegal to drive with snow on the roof of a vehicle,” says Ford DSFL.

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snow plow driving near a plow
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If you’re driving near a snowplow

It may be tempting to travel next to a snow plow, but that’s not what the experts think. “Snow plows travel slowly, make wide turns, stop often, overlap lanes, and exit the road frequently,” says Ford DSFL. “However, the road behind an active snow plow is safer to drive on. If you find yourself behind a snow plow, stay behind it or use caution when passing.” It’s best to take it slow when driving on icy roads since it takes longer to slow down and stop.

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car skidding
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If you’re steering out of a skid

It’s extremely scary to lose control of the car when driving. “When the rear of a car slides, we call it oversteer, and you need to be able to point the car in the direction you want to go before you end up spinning out,” says Ford DSFL. “Make sure to look exactly where it is you want the car to go; don’t look at what you don’t want to hit. By looking in the right place, you are more likely to turn in the wheel in that direction, and you will stop yourself from losing control and will keep your car on the road.” Take extra precautions when driving on the most dangerous roads in the world.

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snowy ice car
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If you’re driving at night or in white-out conditions in a snowstorm with little visibility

In the ideal scenario, you’d be driving along on a clear day with blue skies and not a lot of traffic on the road. However, you don’t always get to drive when you want, and driving at night and in snowstorms are a few not-so-ideal scenarios you can find yourself in. The experts at the Ford Driving Skills for Life Team recommend to stop driving, get to a safe parking area if at all possible. “Freeway shoulders are not safe in a whiteout. Gradually slow down and drive according to the weather conditions,” they said. “Make sure all of your lights are turned on. Regular headlights work best in snow squalls – avoid using high beams as they may reflect off the snow making it harder to see. Keep calm, patient and alert. Increase your following distance so you can brake safely. Keep your windows and mirrors clean with your defroster and wipers. Look as far ahead as possible.” Squalls, bomb cyclones, and hail glaciers are a few natural phenomena that happen only in winter.

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Car submerged in flood water.

If the road is blocked by water…

The only way to know if you’re about to drive through a shallow puddle or several feet of water is to get out of your car and test it with a stick, Nunn says. In general, you shouldn’t drive through water that’s more than four inches high, or you could risk flooding your engine or damaging the many electronic elements of your vehicle. (Although if you have an SUV or vehicle designed for off-roading, you can likely drive through deeper water.) Also, you should never drive through moving water as your car could suddenly be swept away. If you do ascertain that you can drive through the water, let any oncoming cars go by first, then drive slowly and steadily on through.

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Close up shot of a man's hands holding a car's steering wheel and honking the horn.
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When there’s an oncoming car in your lane…

When a car is coming straight toward you in your lane, try to get the driver’s attention by honking and flashing your lights, while planning a way to avoid a direct hit. Don’t stare at the oncoming vehicle, as your car will follow your line of sight. Instead, look where you want to go, be it a lane over or the shoulder.

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Close up on car thief hand pulling the handle of a car. Car thief, car theft concept

To outsmart a carjacker…

When getting into your car at night, be alert to your surroundings. Have your keys in your hand before you approach your vehicle and unlock the door when you’re a step or two away (not before, when someone else could hop in and not after when someone could wrest the keys from you as you pause to unlock the door). When you do open the door, get in quickly and close and lock the door immediately behind you—don’t take the time to adjust your belongings or rely on automatic locks. If you’ve gotten in your car to discover a carjacker waiting, get out as fast as possible. If a carjacker has reached from the back seat to cover your mouth, take one finger and peel it backward as hard as you can. Hopefully, this will break the perpetrator’s finger and buy you some time to make a quick escape. Now, learn the winter driving mistakes that could put you in danger.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest