Unfortunately incidents, accidents and emergencies are sometimes unavoidable. By knowing how to deal with incidents in the initial phases, you can prevent them from becoming more serious. In this section, we’ll show you the correct way to deal with incidents by teaching you how to:

  • Respond if your car breaks down
  • Drive safely in tunnels, including what to do if you have an emergency
  • Respond to accidents on the road if you’re the first to arrive on the scene
  • Help casualties at an incident and how to administer basic first aid
  • Report an incident to the police.

How to deal with breakdowns

Breakdowns are something that no road user ever wishes to deal with, but knowing how to respond in a correct and timely manner can help protect yourself, your passengers and other road users.

Identifying a problem

Breakdowns may sometimes be identified by warning signs. These can be sights, sounds or even smells so you should keep alert at all times.

A warning light on your instrument panel is often the first sign that you have an issue with your vehicle. Sometimes this can be something that you still have time to rectify like your petrol running low or sometimes it is an urgent issue that needs dealing with ASAP, such as failing breaks.  Use your judgement and if necessary, stop as soon as it is safe to do so and check the problem.

Smelling petrol while you’re driving needs to be investigated as a matter of urgency. You should never ignore it, instead, stop and investigate as soon as you can do so safely.

Burst tyre

A tyre bursting or getting a puncture while you’re driving can feel very scary but you must remain calm, hold the steering wheel firmly and pull up slowly or roll to a stop at the side of the road. This will help protect you and other road users.

A tyre blowing out when you’re travelling on the motorway is even more alarming. If this or another emergency situation happens while you’re on a motorway, you should try to get onto the hard shoulder.  Don’t use your mobile phone, instead find your nearest emergency phone, using the marker posts and call for help. An operator will answer and ask you:

  • To identify your location by giving them the number of the marker you’re calling from.
  • For details of yourself and your vehicle
  • Whether or not you belong to a motoring organisation such as AA.

Level crossing

If you break down on a level crossing, try not to panic. Instead; get everyone out of the vehicle and clear of the crossing quickly and calmly before calling the signal operator from the emergency phone provided. You should only move your vehicle if the operator tells you to do so.

You must wait to cross a level crossing if the red signal is flashing, even if it continues to flash after a train has gone. This is because another train may be coming and you would be placing yourself, your passengers and people on the train in danger.

How to warn others

If you have broken down then you should alert other road users, firstly to keep them safe and also to prevent traffic jams from occurring. The most frequent way to notify people is by using your hazard warning lights. You should use them when your vehicle is temporarily blocking traffic or to notify users of an incident ahead on a motorway or high-speed road. In the event of this, you should turn them off as soon as the traffic behind you has reacted to your lights.

Carrying the right equipment can help reduce the danger of a situation. Carrying a first aid kit, a warning triangle and a fire extinguisher in your car can be helpful for use in an emergency as it could help to prevent or lessen an injury. You shouldn’t take unnecessary risks; you may be able to put out a small fire, for example, but stay safe and know your limitations.

A warning triangle can help alert other road users to danger or hazards, if you broke down. If you have one you should place it at least 45 metres (147 feet) behind your vehicle. You should never place a warning triangle on a motorway as passing traffic poses too much of a risk.

Debris on the motorway can be extremely dangerous. If you are driving on one and see something fall from another vehicle, or if anything falls from your own you should never attempt to retrieve yourself. Instead, you should stop at the next emergency telephone and report the hazard to the police.

Travelling safely in tunnels

Travelling in tunnels can be tricky as your visibility is suddenly reduced as you enter, and incidents can be more difficult to deal with than usual due to the confined nature of the pace. Therefore, it’s imperative that you take extra care.

Being well prepared can help with this. Remove sunglasses, if you’re wearing them, and switch on dipped headlights prior to entering the tunnel. Due to the confined space, it is extra important to keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front, even if it’s congested.  Remember your stopping distances.

Any incidents may be indicated before you enter the tunnel so keep alert for signs warning you of accidents or congestion. The signs may also display a radio frequency. You should tune your radio to this signal and listen for any announcements.

In the event of your vehicle being involved in an incident or breaking down in a tunnel you should:

  • Remain calm
  • Switch off your engine
  • Turn on your hazard warning lights
  • Go to the nearest emergency telephone point and call for help immediately.

If your vehicle catches fire whilst you’re travelling through a tunnel, you have to react quickly and calmly in order to resolve the situation. You should drive out of the tunnel if you can do so without causing further danger, if possible. If not then you should, in the following order:

  • Stop
  • Switch your hazard warning lights on
  • If it’s a small fire, try to put it out
  • Go to your nearest emergency point and call for help.

Responding to an incident

Arriving first at the scene of an incident or crash places you in a position of responsibility. You should:

  • Stop and warn other traffic and road users.
  • Switch on your hazard warning lights, then call the emergency services.
  • Ensure your own safety but if possible do so without risking harm.
  • Ensure that the engines of any vehicles at the scene are switched off.
  • Move uninjured people away from the scene.

In order to keep yourself and others safe, you should be aware of if the crashed vehicle is carrying dangerous goods. If it is it will display an orange label or a hazard warning plate on the back. You should report what the label says when you call the emergency services. The different types of plates are shown in The Official Highway Code.

Giving first aid

You may or may not be trained in first aid but everybody should be able to help treat injured people by following some basic steps like:

  • Keep them warm and comfortable
  • Talk to them reassuringly, to help them remain calm
  • Make sure they’re not left alone.

There are three vital priorities when you’re attending to a casualty. You should:

  1. Ensure they have a clear airway
  2. Check that they are breathing
  3. Try and stop any heavy bleeding.

If someone is unconscious you should follow the DR ABC code below.


You should check for danger, such as approaching traffic. Do this before you move towards the injured person.


Check that the casualty is responsive by gently asking them questions.


Check that their airway is clear.


Check for breathing. You should do this for up to 10 seconds.


In the event that the injured person isn’t breathing, you should place two hands in the centre of their chest, press down hard and fast – around 5–6 centimetres and about twice a second. It may be useful to think of doing this to the rhythm of the Bee Gee’s ‘Staying Alive’.  You may only need one hand for a child (two fingers for an infant) and shouldn’t press down as far as you would on an adult.

If the injured party isn’t breathing, consider giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. To do this, you should:

  • Check and, if necessary, clear their mouth and airway.
  • Gently tilt their head back as far as possible.
  • Pinch their nostrils together.
  • Place your mouth over theirs.
  • Give two breaths, each lasting one second.

You should continue to do this with rounds of 30 chest compressions and two breaths until medical help arrives and only stop when they can breathe without help.

  • If the person injured is a small child you should breathe very gently.
  • If they begin to breathe normally then you should place them in the recovery position and check the airway to make sure it’s clear.
  • If they’re bleeding you should apply firm pressure to the wound.
  • If the blood is coming from a limb, as long as it isn’t broken you should raise it in order to help reduce the bleeding.
  • If someone is suffering from burns you should douse the burns thoroughly with cool non-toxic liquid for at least 10 minutes but don’t remove anything sticking to the burn as to do so risks removing skin and causing further damage.

You should never leave them alone even if they seem stable, keep checking they are ok until emergency services arrive.

If an area is safe and secure you should never move an injured person as this cause greater harm.  However, if they’re in obvious danger you should move them with extreme care. Never remove a motorcyclist’s helmet unless it’s essential in order to keep them alive. To do so could cause more serious injury or even paralysis. You should always get help from a qualified medical professional. Although it may seem like a kind thing to do you should never offer a casualty any food or drink, or a cigarette to calm them down. This could be dangerous.

Not all injuries are instantly apparent and some people may be suffering from shock. You can recognise this by looking out for people with a rapid pulse rate who are sweating and with pale grey skin.

If someone is suffering from shock you should help them by:

  • Constantly reassuring them
  • Keeping them warm
  • Make them as comfortable as possible
  • Avoiding moving them unless necessary to ensure safety
  • Making sure they’re not left alone.

Reporting an incident

If you are involved in an incident or accident then you MUST stop and report it by law as soon as reasonably practical or within 24 hours (immediately in Northern Ireland). If there’s damage to another vehicle, property or animal you should report it to the owner. These timings also apply to how long you have to produce your insurance certificate to the police.

If another vehicle is involved then you must find out

  • Who the owner of the vehicle is
  • Its make and registration number
  • The other driver’s name, address and telephone number
  • Details of the other driver’s insurance.

At any point, the police may ask you for:

  • Your insurance certificate
  • The MOT certificate for the vehicle you’re driving
  • Your driving licence.

Hopefully, you will never have to use any of the above information, but knowing it will help keep you, your passengers and other road users safe, in the event of an incident.