Surviving the worst-case scenarios

Stay calm but act fast when danger looms

Last reviewed: September 2010

If you ever find yourself in a perilous situation while you're behind the wheel of your car, knowing what to expect and being prepared can provide peace of mind, and maybe even save a life. Rule No. 1 is to keep your cool and help your passengers remain calm. Panic won't benefit anyone.

Let's start with some tips that can help you in several scenarios:

Memorize the locations of window switches and door locks. Note whether the front doors unlock by just pulling the door handle. The locks on many vehicles can be programmed to unlatch with the handle.

Don't forget obvious safety precautions, such as making sure that all of your tires—including the spare—are properly inflated.

Keep a spare key with you or in a magnetic holder that can be hidden on your car's exterior metal areas, such as a wheel well.

Maintain an emergency kit that includes basic first aid supplies, a small shovel, a tow strap, jumper cables, reflective plastic triangles, and rock salt or sand in snow country.

Always bring your cell phone and its car charger with you, especially on long trips. Have the phone numbers for your local police, roadside assistance, and so on entered into your phone's contact list.

Here are some survival strategies that we recommend for the most harrowing driving predicaments: