The Definitive Guide to Roadside Safety

Most car trips are uneventful and easily accomplished, taking you from Point A to Point B with the minimum of fuss. But there will likely be an occasion or two in your life when you have to pull over to the side of the road. The reason for this might be simple – answering a phone call or moving aside for emergency vehicles – or it might be more of an emergency, such as a car accident or a bad winter storm. Whatever the reason, it’s important to always have roadside safety in mind – even before you start out on your trip.

Vehicle Maintenance

The first step in roadside safety is to avoid actually having to stop on the side of the road. This can start with the vehicle, before you even set out for a drive. Ensure that your car is up to date on oil changes, tire rotations, and any other regular maintenance to reduce the chances of something going wrong.

Defective Tires

As with the internal parts of your car, you should ensure that you keep an eye on your tires and their state of wear – Transport Canada recommends a check at least once a month. A sudden flat tire, especially at high speed, can not only cause a major accident, but also means that you’ll need to pull over to the side of the road to change it, putting yourself in possible danger from other vehicles. Avoid tire problems by checking them regularly, buying new tires when needed (including snow tires in winter), and making sure your spare is also in good condition.

Roadside Safety Kits

There are a few standard things that every driver should carry in their car for emergencies, especially in a country like Canada, where the weather can be completely different ten minutes down the road. These include:

  • An ice scraper/snow brush and a shovel
  • Food and water that can stay in the car for up to 6 months (granola bars and bottled water)
  • Extra clothing, gloves, and a blanket
  • Road flares, reflective triangles, or other items to alert people that you’re there
  • A first aid kit
  • Spare windshield wiper fluid and cat litter or sand
  • Jumper cables, rope, and a jack
  • Flashlight and spare batteries

If you’re going to an area you don’t know well, you should also consider having a physical map in your glove box; physical maps won’t run out of battery like cell phones. For the cell phone itself, you can also plug it in via USB or with a modified cigarette lighter plug to keep it charged. A fully charged battery will enable you to call for help if you encounter a situation where you can’t take care of it yourself.

Bad Weather

Depending on where you live in Canada, your winter may consist of nothing but rain – or intense blizzards, cold, and snowfall. Wherever you live, keeping an eye on the weather will help ensure your safety. It may not always be feasible to stay off the road in bad weather, or a sudden flurry or squall may spring up out of nowhere. If you have to pull over – or if you slide off the road – stay in your car; it can take a lot more damage than you if another driver loses control or doesn’t see you in time.

If stuck in bad weather, try to conserve heat and energy. You can do this by adding more layers of clothing, using a candle in a deep can for warmth, and avoiding shoveling unless absolutely necessary. It’s also important to make sure that your car’s exhaust pipe isn’t blocked by snow, which can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Turn on your hazard lights for visibility, but be aware that doing so for too long will drain your car’s battery. Finally, keep watch for other cars or for emergency vehicles, and consider carrying a whistle or anything else that can make a loud noise to alert people to your presence.


If worst comes to worst and you do need to pull over to the side of the road, make sure that you are visible to other cars, in both daylight and at night. This can mean using your hazard lights, road flares, or reflective clothing and emergency triangles. Always try to move your car away from traffic, preferably to a breakdown lane or even a parking lot if one is nearby. Doing so will protect you, your vehicle, and any other drivers on the road.

With luck, you’ll never have to pull over to the side of the road for more than a few minutes. But if you find yourself in a situation where you need to get off the road, having a few preparations in place will help ensure your safety and get you back on your way.