Whether driving on the interstate or a two-lane highway, the wheels on a car are often just inches from the shoulder of the road. Not knowing what to do if the car runs off the road isn't just a problem for the inexperienced teen driver. Even experienced drivers, who have spent most of their driving lives inside the lines, are not prepared for the shock when they run off the road.
Sergeant Barry Henline, a Highway Patrol driving instructor, set out to give ABC11 a course on what to do when a car goes outside the lines. The lesson took place at the Highway Patrol's closed course in Raleigh.
Going onto the shoulder with two wheels, then all four, creates a loud noise and the steering wheel pulls hard while the right side is on an uneven surface.
"When you drop off the shoulder it is a violent act. You can feel it in the steering wheel. You can hear it underneath the car," Sgt. Henline said.
Henline said he has seen more than his share of serious injuries and deaths after drivers overcorrect.
"Their natural instinct then is to panic because they don't know what else to do," Sgt. Henline said.
The first thing drivers do when they run off the road is try to yank the car back onto the road. That, Henline said, is the worst thing a driver can do. He said a driver is better off hitting something on the side of the road than yanking the steering wheel.
"If there happens to be a mailbox, striking the mailbox and creating a $300 accident is a whole lot better outcome than steering into oncoming traffic or inducing a sideskid and rolling your car over," Sgt. Henline said.
The first key for drivers in this predicament is not to panic. Then, get a firm grip on the wheel and steer along the edge of the road with the wheels on the shoulder.
"Do not hit the brake or the gas. Just let the car's natural speed die down and very gently try to ease it back up onto the roadway," Sgt. Henline said.
If all four wheels are off the road, drivers should ease the left wheels up first, then slowly bring the right wheels up.
Henline said if drivers still lose control, a seat belt is the last best defense.
"Cars are now designed to absorb these kinds of accidents. We see cars that are tremedously damaged and people walk away from it because they stayed inside the car," Sgt. Henline said.
If drivers wear seatbelts, don't panic, and ease their cars back onto the roadways, they'll be following simple advice that could save lives.