About driving

Hazards and emergencies

Tips for handling driving emergencies

Sometimes, no matter how carefully you drive, you may find yourself in an emergency situation. This section describes how to handle emergencies if they develop.

Tyre blowouts

Tyre blowouts can be dangerous, especially if you are driving fast, because they can cause your vehicle to lose control.

A front-tyre blowout will usually cause the vehicle to 'pull' towards the side with the blowout. A rear-tyre blowout will usually cause the vehicle to sway from side to side.

You can try to avoid having a blowout by checking your tyres regularly. If a tyre has a large cut or bulge, or is very worn, it needs to be replaced.

If you do have a blowout while driving, you should:

  • grip the steering wheel tightly
  • ease off the accelerator
  • try to keep the vehicle on its path
  • signal and steer to the side of the road once you've reduced speed.

Engine failure

If your engine cuts out suddenly while driving, you must try to get the vehicle to the side of the road as quickly and safely as possible.

You should:

  • signal and steer towards the side of the road
  • put the vehicle into neutral gear - this will help you roll further
  • put your hazard lights on once you've stopped.

If your vehicle has power steering, it will be difficult to steer once the engine is dead. Try not to be alarmed by the reduced control. Grip the wheel tightly and steer as best as you can.

Shattered windscreen

Shattered windscreens are becoming less common these days because modern vehicles are fitted with laminated windscreens, which crack but don't shatter. Cracks weaken a windscreen. Always repair or replace a cracked windscreen as soon as possible.

If you are driving an older model vehicle and your windscreen shatters, you should:

  • attempt to keep your vehicle on the road and bring it to a stop as soon, and as safely, as possible
  • avoid pushing a hole in the shattered glass unless absolutely necessary. You will probably cut your hand and pieces of broken glass may be blown into your eyes
  • once you have stopped, and if you need to continue driving, you will need to punch out the shattered glass (from the inside out). This will prevent glass from entering your ventilation system
  • use a jack or another tool to punch out the shattered glass. If no tools are available, wrap your hand in thick cloth (such as a jersey or towel) and carefully knock out the glass
  • drive at a reduced speed to the nearest windscreen repairer.

Vehicle fire

If you think your vehicle is on fire, you will need to act immediately. You should:

  • signal and pull over to the side of the road
  • get yourself and any passengers out of the vehicle as quickly as possible
  • keep everyone clear of the vehicle and try to warn oncoming traffic
  • phone the fire service.

Don't try to put out the fire yourself, as you could inhale toxic fumes and there is also a danger the vehicle could explode. If the fire is large, or if fuel is leaking, the vehicle could explode. Get everyone clear of the vehicle (up wind) and try to warn approaching vehicles with safety triangles or ask someone else to stop the traffic.


In a severe earthquake, driving can be very difficult because the road may be shaking or moving up and down beneath you.

If you think that an earthquake is happening while you're driving, you should:

  • pull over and stop
  • stay inside your vehicle until the shaking stops - your vehicle will provide you with some protection against falling objects.

After the earthquake:

  • if power lines have fallen onto your vehicle, stay inside it until help arrives
  • if you continue driving straight after the earthquake, be on the lookout for slips or other road damage and obstacles
  • turn on your radio and listen for news about possible road closures and other information.

Submerged vehicle

New Zealand has a high number of coastal and riverside roads and sometimes vehicles can end up underwater.

Knowing what to do if you're ever in this situation can mean the difference between life and death.

  • If possible, get out of the vehicle while it's still afloat. It will normally sink within a matter of minutes.
  • Escape by winding down the window. The weight of water against the doors will usually make them too hard to open.
  • Once submerged, water will gradually seep into the vehicle. Escape through the windows. If this isn't possible, wait until the vehicle is filled almost to head height with water. The doors will be easier to open then as the pressure inside the vehicle will be almost the same as it is outside.
  • Before leaving the vehicle, turn the lights on so rescuers can find it more easily.
  • Form a human chain with any other passengers as you leave the vehicle. This will make sure you all stay together.

Headlight failure

It's uncommon for both headlights to fail while you are driving, but it can happen.

If your headlights fail while you're driving, you should:

  • slow down
  • move off the road gradually and stop somewhere safe
  • turn your hazard lights on.

Avoiding a head-on crash

A head-on crash is probably the most dangerous type of crash you can be involved in. This is because when two vehicles collide head-on the force of the impact is usually twice as much as it is when a vehicle hits a non-moving object.

If you find yourself heading towards a head-on crash, there are some things you can do to try and avoid the crash or limit its damage:

  • Brake hard. Every kilometre of speed that you slow down by will lessen the impact of a crash if it happens.
  • Flash your headlights and blow your horn to attract the attention of the other driver.
  • Look for an escape route to your left, even if it means driving off the road. A roll-over accident is likely to be less dangerous than a head-on crash.
  • Don't swerve to your right. The other driver is mostly likely to respond by swerving to their left and you would be likely to crash into each other.

The heavy vehicle road code assumes you already know the general road rules. However, you may require more information about the topics covered so far:

  • Giving signals
  • Receiving signal
  • Passing
  • Motorway driving
  • Giving way
  • Stopping and parking
  • Night driving
  • Roadworks
  • Sunstrike

For general road rules refer to The official New Zealand road code.


Where dangerous goods are being carried there are specific requirements for carrying fire extinguishers.

Drivers carrying dangerous goods must have a current DG endorsement e do sement on their licence.

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Last updated: 27 September 2010