The Sudden Unforeseen Stop and Roadside Emergencies


Our safety on the road is not only determined by our behaviour, but also by the behaviour of other road users. Unfortunately, there are also sometimes others targeting road users with criminal activities.

We find several reported incidents of criminals targeting road users who have stopped next to the road for either a rest break or after an unfortunate vehicle breakdown.

It is imperative that everyone becomes mindful of the risks on our roads. Not only that, we should apply extra caution in everything we do, including stopping at the side of the road.

The Rules of the Road and Stopping on the Road

There is specific legislation as to where a vehicle may and may not be stopped.

Regulations 304 of the National Road traffic act stipulates:

Stopping of vehicles

Except to avoid an accident, or in compliance with a road traffic sign or with a direction given by a traffic officer, or for any cause beyond the control of the driver, no person shall stop a vehicle on the roadway of a public road-

  • alongside or opposite an excavation or obstruction on the public road if other traffic would be obstructed or endangered by such stopping;
  • within any tunnel or subway or on any bridge or within six metres of any tunnel, subway or bridge;
  • on, or within six metres from the beginning or end of, any part of such roadway where the normal width thereof has for any reason been constricted;
  • in contravention of any road traffic sign;
  • on the right-hand side of such roadway facing oncoming traffic;
  • alongside or opposite any other vehicle on such roadway where such roadway is less than nine metres wide;
  • within the railway reserve at a level crossing;
  • within nine metres of his or her approaching side of a pedestrian crossing demarcated by appropriate road traffic signs; or
  • in any other place where the stopping of a vehicle would or would be likely to constitute a danger or an obstruction to other traffic.

Regulations 323 point (c) of the National Road traffic act indicates:

Special provisions relating to freeways

No person shall -

(c) stop a vehicle on a freeway except -

  • in compliance with a road traffic sign or a direction given by a traffic officer;
  • within an area reserved for the stopping or parking of vehicles by an appropriate road traffic sign;
  • for any cause beyond his or her control; or…

Reasons for Stopping by the Side of the Road

Reasons for Stopping by the Side of the Road

But why would a driver make an emergency stop on or next to the road? The section on the Arrive Alive website on emergency roadside assistance and the services offered by these responders provide some insights:

Nature of Roadside Emergencies

What are the Types of Roadside Assistance Services we can expect?

  • Battery failure: Checking why the battery does not start the vehicle and assisting to jump-start the vehicle.
  • Tyre issues: Helping to change a flat tyre or damaged tyre with a spare tyre.  If there is no spare tyre the vehicle may be towed.
  • Towing a vehicle after electrical or mechanical breakdown to the nearest approved dealer or competent repairer
  • Towing a vehicle involved in a crash away from the scene of the crash.
  • Providing a small amount of fuel when a vehicle runs out of fuel.
  • Lockout Service - Obtaining the service of a locksmith to open the vehicle and retrieve the keys when keys are locked inside a vehicle or getting replacement keys. The vehicle may be locked- out not only through negligence such as losing keys but also by damage caused through attempts at vehicle theft.
  • Pulling out a vehicle that is stuck in the snow.

Even though we strongly advise people not to use their cellular phones while driving, we also need to alert them to the practice of simply stopping at any place next to the road to make a cellular phone call.

Be aware of your surroundings - being distracted while sitting in a stationary vehicle in a dangerous location is NOT safe! The same applies to the “If Tired, Stop/ Rest” signs. There is safety in numbers - Be extra cautious when driving and stopping when you are alone.

What are the Risks of the Unforeseen Stop at the Side of the Road?

  • You increase the chances of being hijacked.
  • If you are too close to the road, your car may be hit by other road users.
  • You risk personal injury from those identifying you as an easy target to be robbed at the roadside.

Preventing the Unforeseen Stop / Planning for the “Worst Case Scenario”

The best advice will always be to take the necessary precautions to prevent any “worst-case scenarios”. These would include:

  • Ensure that your vehicle is in good condition when you plan to go on a journey.
  • Get in the habit of conducting periodic safety checks to make sure your vehicle is in good operating condition.
  • A safety check should include tyres, lights, belts, hoses, fluids and windshield wipers.
  • Ensure that the fuel tank of your vehicle always has sufficient fuel.
  • Tell someone when you’re travelling, and the approximate time they should expect you.
  • Consider road monitoring services offered by some providers.
  • Take some time to consider whether you need to drive at night…. As the sun sets the risk increases….
  • Take breaks to pull over at safe locations and text or call friends to let them know the journey is going ok or whether there are delays.

Packing your vehicle with safety in mind

Packing your vehicle with safety in mind:

Despite the best planning, there may be incidents and emergencies that are unavoidable.

Bikers have a saying - Dress for the Fall - Not for the Ride! When packing the vehicle, it is also good to consider the question “what can go wrong?”

A few suggestions would include:

  • Consider how you will get to the spare tyre or an emergency kit should there be a roadside emergency!
  • Remember: Last in, first out. Organize items in the order they will or may need to be accessed.
  • Always have a fully charged cellular phone at hand.
  • Program your cellphone with emergency numbers, including that of your roadside assistance provider, and keep a backup written list in your glove compartment.
  • Always carry a well-stocked emergency kit and familiarize yourself with the use of safety flares, warning triangles and other emergency equipment.
  • Do not forget the car charger - some high- speed chargers can keep your GPS and cellular phone powered for any emergency.
  • Always have a container with water for emergencies - either to drink or to clean the hands or the windscreen.
  • Keep a set of jumper cables and extra fluids for the car (such as windshield wiper fluid) in your trunk.
  • Prepare for unexpected breakdowns with gloves, a flashlight, and some basic hand tools.
  • An inexpensive raincoat is invaluable should a wheel change be required in bad weather.
  • Pack a first-aid emergency kit, pillow, blanket and a roll of toilet paper.
  • Consider investing in roadside assistance.
  • Be aware of emergency and roadside assistance benefits available to you through your car insurance policy.

Safety in the event of a Sudden Unforeseen Stop

Safety in the event of a Sudden Unforeseen Stop

Safety at the Scene when Calling for Roadside Assistance / Positioning of People and the Vehicle

  • Always consider your safety, that of your passengers, other road users and that of your vehicle in the event of a breakdown.
  • Awareness is the key to safety at road crash scenes or where vehicles have broken down.
  • Knowing the hazards and how to work around them will ensure the safety of everyone.
  • Pull your vehicle over. Never stop on the opposite side of the direction you are travelling.
  • Ensure that you always engage your hand brake.
  • Park in a safe position off the road - Try to move completely off the road surface if possible.
  • Parking in the yellow lane can be extremely dangerous especially in the event of poor visibility.
  • Turn on your hazard lights and headlights. (Any lighting that may help other motorists see that there has been an accident/vehicle breakdown and slow- down is necessary. Don’t put your bright lights on as this may temporarily blind oncoming motorists)
  • Put out your warning triangle. This must be placed at least 45m behind your vehicle.
  • Whether it is safe to move away from the vehicle will depend on the scene, the time and the safety near the location.
  • It is Safest to move away from the vehicle - Never stand behind the vehicle or right next to it.
  • Even if all of the emergency lights are activated, some freeway drivers do not pay close attention and could rear-end the disabled vehicle, causing further damage or injury.

What to do next

Use the cellular phone to call for assistance or use any of a variety of emergency apps to request assistance. One of the biggest challenges in any emergency is access. Access to the right emergency services, with the right skills and equipment, at the right time and the right place.

When someone experiences an emergency, they often struggle knowing who to call and where they are exactly. This is a major factor when time is of the essence, as “every second counts” in a life-threatening emergency.

  • Emergency apps will assist you to contact a medical, rescue, roadside and other emergency services when you are away from home and when you are driving in an unfamiliar part of South Africa.
  • They are also there to help you find and navigate to doctors, clinics, hospitals, pharmacies, vets, embassies, police stations and other related providers anywhere in South Africa, even when on holiday.
  • They offer an easy way to send assistance to an exact GPS location.
  • Some services also offer “guarding” services whereby a guard is placed with the broken-down vehicle until safe recovery of the vehicle.

If you call an emergency line the call taker will request the following information:

  • Your telephone number (to remain in contact with you should you be cut off)
  • Your location (street name and nearest crossroad, route marker)
  • The details of what has happened, how many people are injured, whether there is e fire, etc.

This will allow the dispatcher to send the correct personnel from the closest area. Also, the call takers can give you telephonic advice as to what to do or even help any injured people on the scene.

Know the Route Markers next to the road

Know the Route Markers next to the road

What road users need to know:

  • The kilometre marker is not a legislated obligation but is a SANRAL standard on all national roads. [SANRAL is the South African National Roads Agency]
  • A specific format is followed with regards to the actual markers (not size etc of signage).

Example from N3:

Know the Route Markers next to the road

These signs are of significant importance to road users. The road user should know that in case of emergency he would be able to pinpoint his location to emergency services by providing the detail on the marking closest to him. He should be able to find this information by merely moving 100 metres to his left or right.

The toll operators have vehicle patrolling along the route and these vehicles are fitted with state of the art tracking technology. By providing the location to within 100m from you the call centre can easily dispatch the patrol vehicle closest to you at that exact moment.

While waiting for Assistance

While you are waiting for the emergency assistance to arrive you may wish to be in regular contact via the call centre or the friend you may have called for assistance. [i.e. every 5 minutes]

You may also use the modern cellular technology to swiftly capture evidence as to any vehicles stopping to render assistance.

Tell the call centre/friend the type of vehicle, registration and describe any individuals stopping. You may even be able to do so via a voice note or send a quick pic of the vehicles stopping. Even though this may not help with the assistance - if something does go wrong these facts may be very important for investigators.

Also view:

Smartphone Apps and Road Safety / Roadside Emergencies

Safety and Safe Driving in Areas of Public Violence

Emergency Response Time and Response to Road Crashes

How to handle an Emergency

Roadside Assistance and Road Safety

Safety with Vehicle and Car Batteries

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