AARP Driving Resource Center

Roadway Departures and How to React

Don't panic! Follow these easy guidelines

Roadway departure crashes — crashes that occur after a vehicle crosses an edge line or a centerline and leaves the roadway — are frequently severe.

See also: The Car Skids — What You Should Do

Many single-vehicle roadway departure crashes result in serious injuries and fatalities, since most occur at high speeds.

A vehicle moving at a high speed has a significant amount of momentum. If it stops suddenly by hitting a fixed object, such as a tree, the result is usually a serious injury or fatality. A vehicle that rolls over after a high-speed roadway departure can cause significant injury to the driver and passengers, even if the vehicle does not hit another object. However, hitting a bush or minor objects on the roadside rather than a tree or fixed object could reduce injuries and damages.

Whenever a vehicle departs from its lane or runs off the road, it is mostly due to driver error. Typical factors contributing to driver error include:

  • Speeding on sharp curve or steep grade
  • Distraction
  • Drowsiness
  • Not paying attention
  • Intoxication
  • Fatigue
  • Poor nighttime visibility

The best way to avoid a roadway departure is to always be alert, attentive and clearheaded when driving and to conduct periodic inspection and maintenance of your vehicle.

Sometimes when a driver is surprised by the unexpected — an animal running across the road or another vehicle merging into the same lane without a signal — a typical reflex action occurs, and the driver makes an attempt to remedy the situation quickly by jerking the wheel in the opposite direction. This reaction causes the vehicle to suddenly pull to the other side, often sending the vehicle across the roadway or causing it to roll. Instead, if your vehicle leaves the road, you should follow these guidelines:

  • Do not panic!
  • Slow down by easing off the gas pedal.
  • Slowly apply the brakes.
  • Bring the vehicle to a stop and then try to get back on the road.

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