Roadside Survival for Driver Education

My book, “Roadside Survival: low-Tech Solutions to Automobile Breakdowns”, is a unique collection of wisdom gained from over 2,000 free-of-charge roadside assists I have performed as a hobby.  Content is based on hands-on experience, not theory.  This book is the foundation for everything in this website (see its website page, “The Book” for details). 

Why teach drivers to prevent and contend with breakdowns?

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 5.8 million vehicle crashes of all types occur annually in the US (average for 2005-2015; 6.7 million in 2018).  This compares with 30 million yearly calls for assistance to AAA alone (33 million in 2017); I know from experience that this number from AAA represents only a small fraction of total breakdowns.  So, breakdowns are at very least five times as likely as crashes; likely this figure is much higher.  I estimate that the ratio of breakdowns to crashes is about 20:1.

Safety implications are obvious: The safest breakdown is the one prevented so it doesn’t happen!  The safest breakdown that happens is the one with minimum exposure to risks – partly a function of time stranded.

Consequences from a crash generally are more serious than from a breakdown.  But vehicle breakdowns, whose chances of happening are so much greater, usually involve inconvenience, lost time, discomfort, anxiety, and sometimes injury and death – when another vehicle hits one broken down and when human predators prey upon folks in a broken down vehicle.  Injury also is possible when a stranded motorist tries to help himself but is neither trained nor equipped to do it safely.

Why not just call commercial roadside assistance?

Some folks ask, “Why should I worry about breakdowns?  I’ll just call for XYZ commercial roadside assistance” (I have heard this from several driver education teachers, referring to their students).  I don’t knock these assist companies.  I can confirm that they usually provide good service in places where they use their own people and equipment, although they’re not always timely.  Problems occur with breakdowns away from their offices where they often subcontract the work to third-stringers who are incompetent.  I have seen a lot of this, especially on weekends, holidays, and at night.  But why not focus on preventing breakdowns in the first place?

Driver Education teachers may copy, paste, modify and use material from this PowerPoint file which is nearly identical to the one I use for presentations to driver education conferences around the country (all I ask is that users credit me as their source!): (Click here).  After reading my book carefully, teachers can use this PowerPoint file to replicate my presentations and answer inevitable student questions.  So, besides reading the book carefully, 80% of teacher prep work has been done!  Here is an alternative which uses my PowerPoint file: Check out this YouTube video I did with DSAA; you may want to use it to prepare yourself to teach a class.  Or you may want to send it to students.  The actual material starts at the 5:12 mark and runs thru 54:05:

These three TV segments introduce my message and the book (these links are also on my “Links” page), illustrating the book’s value to Driver Education (Feel free to pass on these links, maybe to parents of your student drivers, or play them in class):

Fox News segment aired August 31, 2019:

This radio segment I did with a radio station in Wilmington, Delaware, provides, in some detail, important highlights from my book and other presentations at driver education conferences:

Teachers may want to listen to this radio segment to become better informed.  Or they may want to play it in class for benefit of students.  Another option: copy the segment’s file name, paste it to an email, and send the email to parents or students; this will give folks a good idea of what you can cover in class using the PowerPoint file.

Recently, a radio station in Atlanta, preparing to do a short segment with me, asked me to list five things to check before going on a long drive. My response:

1. Make sure all tires (including spares for primary vehicle and any towed vehicles) are in good shape and not in need of a 5,000-mile inspection, rotate and balance. Best done by a tire professional. No tires, especially for trailers & campers, older than 6 years.

2. Ensure proper air pressure in all tires (use a gauge to confirm), including spare (spares are flat 80% of the time). Have a 12-v air compressor on board. Have more than one spare for a trailer.

3. Have all tools required to change a tire; very likely that required tools will be different for trailers. Most frequent problem is lug nuts on too tight. Check before trip; if too tight, get a cheater bar (2-ft long steel pipe 1-inch in diameter) for additional leverage.

4. Pay close attention to dashboard warning lights and gauges. Take the vehicle to a mechanic before the trip for any signs of weak battery, engine overheating, or low tire pressure. Ensure that engine oil level is good; Have engine oil and filter replaced if more than 5,000miles old (or older than the vehicle’s specs).

5. Be sure that the battery connection clamps are clean and too tight to wiggle on the posts by hand. If not, use correct size combination wrench to tighten them. Range of nut sizes: 8mm – 13mm; most are 10mm.

Of course, there’s a whole lot more to it, but that’s a start; it’s all in my book (as well as the PowerPoint file cited above).

The book is available at bulk rates far below retail; see the attached pricing schedule: (Click here).

Some driver education programs use the book as a textbook; others treat it as a “consumable” and issue it to students as a “value added” resource.

Teachers may prefer to not provide copies of the book directly to students and their parents.  Instead, teachers may want to recommend the book and then distribute this flyer (printed, or as a file attached to email): (Click here).

With onset of widespread snow and ice in January, 2016, I, in consultation with several associates with considerable winter driving experience, prepared a 2-page listing of “Winter Driving Tips” which just could be an outline for a chapter in the future.  Click to see attachment: Winter Driving Tips

Here is a perfect example of why drivers need to know the information I am offering – which is not even mentioned in most driver education training:

– Recently, at my local community college, I taught Part 2 of my 2-part class on Roadside Survival. Outside in the parking lot I had nine teens with vehicles, and I had them check all fluids and battery clamps, then change a tire – mounting their spares using the tools that came with their vehicles. Part 1 of the class occurred on an earlier day in a classroom with a 2-hour summary of my book, using the PowerPoint file available at this website (see above), to provide fundamentals and theory.

– Two remarkable (though hardly surprising) things surfaced at the outdoor session: 1) All nine vehicles’ lug nuts were on too tightly for students to loosen them using only their vehicles’ lug wrenches, so all had to borrow my cheater bar – a 2-foot long, 1-inch in diameter steel pipe; and 2) All but one vehicle had a flat or grossly under inflated spare tire, so I reflated them all with my 12-volt air compressor. For all students (and several parents) present, this was a huge “Ah Hah” moment, literally.

– Stowage and use of a cheater bar and 12-volt compressor, and criticality of having correct air pressure in spare tires are only two of many, many nuggets found uniquely in my book and PowerPoint file available for use to train driver education teachers and students.  Teachers can cover this kind of nitty-gritty, extremely useful information by using my material, even if (unfortunately) their program does not allow time for such a hands-on session.

Here is another example:

On September 8, 2018, my small town of Eastover celebrated “Eastover Heritage Day”, an annual event at the local kids’ ballpark. There was a parade, baseball games among local groups like fire stations, dance groups, a bloodmobile, local politicians, and several local vendors. I provided a free, unique activity: Free check of attendee spare tires and and reflation if needed. I set up at the main entrance gate near the main parking lot. Temps were in mid-90’s, but I had been given a sunshade, which helped. Still, it was a long day.

I had a total of ten takers, mostly later in the day as they departed so they wouldn’t lose their parking spaces. All who accepted my check either had spares with zero PSI or much less PSI than prescribed. These folks were amazed at how their spares could be so low. They were all super-thankful. Made lots of new friends.

About 25% who passed my booth said that their vehicles didn’t have a spare at all (by design, “I used it when I had a flat last week”, or “I lent it to my brother, etc.”); another 50% declined my offer, saying they “were good”. Two said they owned tire stores, and their employees ensured that all their tires were properly inflated. I didn’t debate or push myself on anyone. My bet is that a large chunk of the 50%, sometime soon, will realize that their spares really weren’t so good. They and the 25% without spares will ensure that I continue to have lots of roadside assist business.

My point here is that 100% of takers had spares which would not have worked in case of flat tire. This tracks with my example just above where 8 of 9 students’ vehicles had flat spares; also in that case, 100% of their vehicles’ lug nuts were on too tight to be loosened without cheater bar. This super-basic stuff isn’t emphasized in most driver education programs. My book and PowerPoint file address these kinds of real-world issues, with prevention tips and proven solutions, which can make a big difference.