Dear Readers: A reader asked what a passenger should do, and in what order, if the driver of a car loses consciousness at the wheel. I contacted the California Highway Patrol and was told: Lean the driver back, grab the steering wheel, hit the turn signal, keep your seatbelt fastened and begin merging into the lane(s) to the right, remove the driver's foot from the accelerator, and bring the vehicle to a stop on the shoulder. Then use a cell phone to call 911. (To which I added, while doing all of the above, it couldn't hurt to start praying.)
Half a dozen people wrote to say that they'd had this experience, and mail arrived from all over the United States informing me that the CHP's advice left something to be desired:
Dear Abby: My husband and I decided we'd try the CHP's suggestions on our way to church. Here's what we learned: It was almost impossible to pull my husband's foot off the gas pedal. I had to grab his pant leg while trying to watch the road — not an easy task! Also, if the car has a console — ours does — the passenger can't reach the brake. (Perhaps downshifting would work better?) —Connie and Terry, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
Dear Readers: Needless to say, after reading readers' letters, I contacted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in Washington, D.C. In a nutshell, here's what they told me:
"While your advice was accurate, we're more concerned about the reason behind the question, and the message that it's safe to drive with occasional loss of consciousness as long as one has a co-pilot. Relying on another person in a vehicle to take control is neither responsible nor safe.
If a person experiences loss of consciousness for any reason, they need to stop driving until they are treated by a doctor who gives them permission to resume driving. This means they'll have to find another means of transportation, at least temporarily. Families have a role to play. If they are aware of the risk, they need to tell the state licensing agency and the doctor.
Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069. © Universal Press Syndicate