Keep yourself, your passengers, and other drivers on the road safe in these four common high-pressure situations when you need to pull over on the side of the road.


Pulling over on a highway

Tip #1: If you need to pull over, do not panic or make sudden moves. This could cause you to make rash decisions. Check your surroundings and know the positions of the other vehicles on the road. This will help ensure that you don’t cut them off.

Tip #2: Don’t go left. The left side of a highway usually has less space. If there’s no barrier, it also might put you close to oncoming traffic. Put on your right turn signal. Start moving to the right as soon as you can do so safely. 

Tip #3: Look for a wide shoulder. Avoid construction zones and places that are overgrown with trees. The ideal spot has a wide shoulder next to flat grass to allow your vehicle as much distance from the highway as possible.

Tip #4: Be aware of road conditions. Weather can make the roads slippery, such as black ice which can cause dangerous conditions. As you’re traveling right, adjust your speed accordingly. Be aware of any debris.

Tip #5: Activate your hazard lights so other vehicles are aware you are there. This is especially important in the dusk or dark. Do not exit your vehicle. You are much safer inside your car. However, if you must get out, stay on the side opposite to the highway, and never turn your back on traffic. Follow steps, if needed, in the next section on roadside assistance.

Tip #6: Give yourself ample time and space getting back onto the highway. Getting up to highway speed takes time. Turn off your hazards and put on your turn signal. Start to accelerate in the shoulder lane. When you are up to speed, safely merge back into traffic.


Roadside emergencies

Tip #1: Recognize there is a problem. You might notice that your car is in trouble due to noises, smells, or lights on the dashboard. Put on your hazard lights to alert other drivers that you are having an issue. Be aware of other cars around you as you look for a safe place to pull over.

Tip #2: Find a safe place to stop. Avoid stopping at a corner or the bottom of a hill where your car might surprise other drivers without enough room for them to slow or stop. If you can make it to a freeway exit, a rest stop, or a parking lot, do so. If not, a wide shoulder on the side of the road will work. Try to stop under a street light if possible.

Tip #3: Mark your spot. Don’t exit your car until it’s safe to do so. If you’re on a busy road, get out the passenger side and stay away from traffic. Set up emergency flares or fluorescent cones that warn other drivers you are there. Then return to your vehicle.

Tip #4: Call for roadside assistance if you need it. You may have roadside assistance through your insurer, but if you don’t, you can call a local towing service. There also are some apps that will connect you with service providers, such as HONK and Check with your local municipality as well. The state of California offers a free Freeway Service Patrol program to help clear the roads from broken down vehicles.

Tip #5: If you can, take care of simple repairs. You may be able to fix your flat tire or jumpstart your car. 

Tip #6: Be careful of anyone who stops to help. Use your best judgment. Some people who offer to help may wish to cause harm. Err on the safe side and lower your window only enough to talk. Let the good Samaritan know that professional assistance is on its way.


Police stops 

Tip #1: As soon as you hear the siren or see the flashing lights, put on your hazards. This lets the police officers know that you saw them and that you’re slowing down. 

Tip #2: Search for a place to pull over that’s large enough for two cars. Most officers will permit you to go a short distance to a driveway, business parking lot, or gas station. If the car is unmarked, make sure you are in a safe place, such as in a well-lit area with people around or near an open business.

Tip #3: Turn off the ignition and wait. It may take several minutes for the officer to exit the car. He or she may be getting information about your car. Be patient and wait. Do not get out of your car.

Tip #4: If it’s a marked vehicle, roll down your window. If it’s an unmarked car, wait until the police officer approaches and asks for credentials before you roll down your window.

Tip #5: Be calm when you talk with the officer. The officer will most likely ask you for your license, registration, and insurance card. Let them know if you do not have one of the required documents.

Tip #6: If you get a ticket or citation, do not argue. Be respectful. Thank the officer if you get a verbal warning. After the officer has returned to his or her patrol car, pull out safely into traffic


For Emergency Vehicles

Tip #1: Listen for a siren. A police, ambulance, or fire truck siren can be heard for a good distance. If you think you hear a siren, shut off your radio or music.  Try to determine the direction where it is coming from. Look for flashing lights.

Tip #2: Put on your right turn signal and slow down. Continue listening for the siren and looking for lights. Identify a place where you can safely pull over to the right of the road.

Tip #3: Check your mirrors and make sure the way is clear. Pullover and park your car. You can leave the engine running as you shouldn’t be there for long.

Tip #4: Watch for the emergency vehicle and wait until it has passed. When you do pull out, you will want to stay at least 500 feet behind it.

Tip #5: Check your mirrors, put on your turn signal and carefully pull back into traffic. You may need to wait your turn, as other drivers will be doing the same thing.

Drive safe.


This article is furnished by California Casualty, providing auto and home insurance to educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and nurses. Get a quote at 1.866.704.8614 or

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