At some point, virtually all drivers will face the potential for a collision, possibly with serious injuries. Knowing what to do in different car accident situations can make a big difference in the outcome. In some cases, having the right tools, taking preventative steps, or making the right choices in the aftermath of an accident could save your life.
Things You May Not Have Considered Before You Drive
Just as putting on a life jacket can help you survive a variety of boating accidents, there are preventative steps to take that can help in many different car accident situations. Of course, we all know the basics, such as wearing a seatbelt, keeping a vehicle properly maintained, and staying focused on the road. However, many critical steps get overlooked.
Secure Loose Articles
Any article in the cabin of a vehicle can become a dangerous projectile in a collision. This can be a problem for people who tend to “live” out of their cars, carrying laptops, sports equipment, tools, coffee mugs, toys, and other items around on a regular basis. Even a can of soda could become deadly if it hits someone in the head at 60 miles an hour.
Try to take the same approach as the airlines and secure loose articles before you leave. In fact, it is best to start by emptying the car after every trip and bringing only what is absolutely necessary each time. Items that could become projectiles in a crash should be stored in a trunk or secured storage area. Articles can also be secured with a cargo net, particularly in places such as the back of an SUV or minivan.
Invest in Safety Tools
It is also a good idea to invest in tools that you hopefully will never have to use. For instance, having a device that can cut through a seatbelt could help vehicle occupants escape a wreck.
Tools to consider keeping at hand include:
- Glass breaker that can smash through auto glass
- Device to cut through seatbelts
- Signal alarm (preferably flashing lights and sound)
Many multi-tool items are available that combine these features. Some even include tools for preventative maintenance such as a tire gauge, tire tread depth measure, pliers, and screwdrivers of varying sizes.
Consider Tech That Can Call for Help
If possible, it is good to invest in technology that could transmit a vehicle’s location and even initiate a call for emergency assistance. For instance, there is a feature on some devices such as Apple Watches that can detect when the wearer has suffered a fall, and if the wearer fails to respond, the device can call authorities and provide them with the victim’s location. Some vehicles offer similar features through programs such as OnStar. If you have these high-tech tools, make sure you set them up correctly and understand how to use them.
Steps that Could Avoid a Collision
When something goes wrong behind the wheel, the actions taken in the next few seconds could make the difference between suffering injuries in a serious collision and having your breath taken away by a near-miss. Try to stay calm and evaluate the situation.
For instance, while it is probably a good idea to slow down, there are cases where increasing speed could make it easier to take evasive action and get a vehicle out of harm’s way. If a vehicle is heading toward you, try to flash your lights and steer to the side to avoid a head-on impact.
Maintain Control of the Vehicle
When drivers cannot control their vehicles, they become helpless. It is important to keep your hands on the steering wheel and try not to jerk the wheel suddenly. If the vehicle is skidding, the best option is to turn slowly in the direction you want to go. Do not try to brake or accelerate while the tires have no traction.
For example, if a car loses control while crossing an icy bridge, often steering a steady, unchanging course can allow the vehicle to continue safely across until the tires grip on the other side. However, if a driver hits the brakes instead, the car could skid sideways and hit the railing.
While acceleration could help avoid an accident in certain circumstances, most of the time, it is wise to back off the gas. Reducing a vehicle’s speed could prevent a collision or at least reduce the impact. Most vehicles now have anti-lock brake systems, so trust the system to do its job. Hold the brake pedal steadily and allow the system to pump the brakes safely to reduce speed. The vibration in the brake pedal is a signal that an anti-lock brake system is working.
When a Car Crash is Imminent
At some point, despite all evasive maneuvers, there may be no way to avoid a collision. However, it may be possible to exercise some control over the crash.
Determine the path of least harmful resistance. For example, it is usually better to run into a row of evergreen bushes than to hit a telephone pole. Hitting a big tree could prove deadly, but hitting a sign could be relatively harmless because many newer signs are designed to break off on impact. Above all, try to avoid a head-on collision with other moving vehicles or avoid a front-end collision with a heavy fixed object like a concrete wall.
In addition to controlling what you hit, you can also control your body position during impact. Although the instinct is to duck down or move out of the way, it is best to remain upright in the normal driving position with hands on the steering wheel. A vehicle’s safety features are designed to protect drivers in this position. When a driver moves, the airbags could hit their head or arms at a bad angle, causing severe head injuries or broken bones.
If you are headed toward a body of water, resist the urge to remove your seatbelt—the greatest danger comes from injuries caused by impact rather than being trapped in a vehicle. If the impact causes severe injuries or renders you unconscious, you will be powerless to escape. Try to gauge the depth of the water, which could affect the options for leaving the vehicle.
The most important advice may be the most difficult to follow: try to remain calm. Take deep breaths. Relaxed body posture could reduce the potential for injuries. Plus, the better your mind is functioning, the easier it will be to take the necessary steps after impact.
How to Survive After a Car Accident
While shocking, the initial impact of a collision may not be the most dangerous part of the accident. After a crash, it is essential to assess the situation and take steps to secure the safety of everyone in the vehicle.
When a Vehicle Crashes into Water
In most cases, it is a good idea to call 911 as soon as possible to get professional assistance on the scene quickly. However, when a car crashes into water, it is better to start on an escape plan without taking time to call for help that may not arrive in time.
Even if a vehicle appears to be floating, it can start sinking and become submerged very quickly, so it is wise to begin to exit the vehicle right away. Because it is usually difficult to open a heavy door on a sinking vehicle, it is best to open or break a window with a heavy or pointed object. (Don’t try to break the windshield because these are designed to withstand impact.) It may be easier to gain leverage if you keep your seatbelt on until the window is open. Aim for the center of the glass and put as much force behind the blow as possible.
If the window remains closed and a car becomes submerged, it may be possible to open the car door once the pressure inside and outside the vehicle has equalized. Once you have escaped the car, follow air bubbles toward the surface.
Other Unsafe Situations
Depending on the circumstances, it may be safest to remain in a vehicle after a collision. When you get out, you could be hit by other drivers involved in or distracted by the crash. This could be particularly dangerous when visibility is reduced by darkness or bad weather. Moreover, movement could make certain injuries substantially worse. Therefore, it is often best to call for help and wait for first responders. Turn off the engine and do not allow anyone to smoke to avoid igniting flammable vapors or materials.
However, if a vehicle is already on fire or is in the path of something dangerous, it is best to move quickly to a safer location. This is where it can be very handy to have a tool for cutting seatbelts or breaking windows.
Call for Help
Some people wonder whether an accident needs to be serious before they can call 911. The severity is for emergency personnel to decide. As soon as it is safe to do so, make the call.
Be prepared to answer yes or no questions because dispatchers sometimes work with a checklist, and they will not move on to the next assessment question without a firm yes or no. When in doubt, choose the option that requires the most assistance. For instance, if the operator asks if anyone is trapped in a vehicle and you are not sure of the answer, say “yes.”
If you are out of range or your phone is low on power, try putting your phone in airplane mode to reduce power usage, compose a message with the details of the incident and your location, then turn off airplane mode and send the message to everyone you know in the area. Stay with the vehicle if possible because it will make it easier for rescue teams to locate you.
Turn on vehicle flashers, but not the engine. If you have a portable flasher, turn that on.
Protect Yourself in the Aftermath
It’s no secret that car accidents often lead to lawsuits. Even if you were not at fault, someone might accuse you, and you could find yourself facing legal action. You can protect yourself by collecting evidence. Take photographs of the scene, collect the names of witnesses, and make sure the police take a report. Most personal injury lawyers offer free consultations, so it might be wise to review your case with an attorney. Even if someone sues you, they could end up as the ones owing money.
Avoid saying something that could be taken as a confession of guilt. Many people say “I’m sorry” to be polite. While they mean “I’m sorry you’re experiencing this situation,” the statement can be taken as “I’m sorry for causing this situation.” It is better to say nothing other than to provide reassurance that you have called for help.
Make sure you get a full medical exam because even if you feel fine, a doctor could detect injuries that are not immediately apparent, such as head trauma or internal bleeding. Follow the doctor’s instructions to give yourself the best chance of recovery and to protect yourself in the event of a lawsuit or insurance claim. You could be denied fair compensation on the grounds that your lack of self-care caused unnecessary damage.
Healing After a Car Accident Takes Time
Surviving a car accident is a traumatic experience. Do not be surprised if the physical, mental, and emotional effects stay with you for a long time. It can be helpful to work with a therapist to overcome problems caused by stress, guilt, or other powerful sensations.
It may take a team effort to complete the recovery process. Don’t be afraid to seek advice from professionals who have helped others survive their car accident experiences, including accident attorneys, physical therapists, mental health counselors and psychiatrists. A professional could help you heal and move on.