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Breaking down on a Jersey highway: The Dos and Don’ts

Disabled vehicles on the New Jersey Turnpike during icing
Disabled vehicles on the New Jersey Turnpike during icing (Kathleen Wells)

It may sound like an odd question but think about it: Do you know what to do if your car breaks down on a major highway in the Garden State?

State Police Lt. Ted Schafer says the first thing you should do is get that vehicle over to the right-hand side of the road, onto the shoulder and as far as possible from traffic. Parking your car in the center median is extremely dangerous.

If you can’t get over to the shoulder, stay in your car with the seat belt buckled.

“It is the safest thing you can do because you are inside that safe steel box, which was designed for impact.” Wandering around especially on the driver’s side is also very dangerous, he said.

Last week, a 57-year-old truck driver from Clifton was killed after he stepped out of his disabled truck on Route 78. James Beltran was struck by another truck even though he was standing in the right shoulder of the interstate.

Schafer says if you need to get out of the vehicle because you need to check something or you just don’t feel safe, then exit out of the passenger side if you’re on the right-hand shoulder. If you can, go over the opposite side of the guardrail if it’s safe.

He also says if your check engine light comes on or your tire pressure light comes on, try not to pull over to the shoulder. Chances are you still have enough air in your tire. So if it’s possible, the safest thing to do at that point is get off the road, find a parking lot and assess the situation.

Pulling over to the shoulder or onto the berm is for emergencies only, says Schafer. Making a phone call or sending a text does not constitute an emergency.

He says while the State Police appreciate people following the law by not talking or texting while driving, “get the vehicle off the interstate, get the vehicle off the roadway if you’re on a secondary road, and put it into a parking lot — someplace safe.”

When it comes to road repairs, have some kind of roadside assistance plan, says Schafer. But also, pulling over to the side of the road because you have a flat tire does constitute an emergency.

“Call us up. Call 9-1-1. We’ll come out there. We’ll put our lights on. We’ll assist you in getting a tow truck or some sort of repair service,” Schafer says.

People may not be aware that during peak hours, the state Department of Transportation does have a free service on select interstate areas. They will come out and provide basic maintenance.

He does not suggest using road flares, but if you do use them, be very careful, especially in the summer months. They can start forest fires.

“If you’re unsure, call the police. That is what the 9-1-1 system is there for,” he said.

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