Car accidents can happen any time, anywhere, and even to defensive drivers with safe driving habits. When faced with an accident, you may be blindsided — or you may see it coming and have an opportunity to act. At that point, you’re shifting from crash avoidance to crash survival. What you do in those few seconds can make a difference in the severity of the accident and may even save your life. Read on to learn what you can do before, during, and after a car accident that can help you and your passengers survive a crash.
What to do Before a Car Accident
The best way to survive an accident is to avoid accidents completely. But even safe drivers can get into accidents. Take these steps before there’s ever danger on your radar so that you’ll be safer in the event of a crash.
- Wear your seat belt: In an accident, a seat belt can mean life or death, so this is absolutely the best thing you can do to survive a car crash. Seat belts reduce serious car crash injuries and deaths by about half, and those are good odds. You may not have control over much of what happens during a car accident, but this step is one you can take long before you’re in danger. Secure your seat belt low on your hip bones and make sure your shoulder belt goes across the center of your chest. Secure children safely in car seats.
- Drive the safest car you can afford: Manufacturers continue to make cars safer every year, introducing new features like automatic braking and lane-departure warnings. They also make improvements and perform better on crash test ratings. When you’re shopping for a car, pay attention to safety. Check official crash test ratings, investigate safety features, and consider these factors when purchasing your vehicle. And whatever car you’re driving, make sure you know the standard and optional safety features including where your airbags are and whether or not you have ABS.
- Store potential projectiles: Anything can become a projectile during a crash. Rocks collected on a hike, sports equipment, your laptop, an overnight bag. Seemingly harmless items can become dangerous when flung across your car at a high rate of speed, hitting you or your passengers. Even a can of soup in your grocery bag has the potential to turn fatal when it’s flying at 60 miles per hour in a car crash. Do your best to travel light, removing all unnecessary objects from your car every time you get home. When traveling with objects that could become projectiles, carefully stow them in your trunk, covered back storage area, or in wells behind seats. Consider using a cargo cover or net to secure items in the back of SUVs and minivans. Note that unsecured passengers and pets are potential projectiles as well.
- Invest in an auto survival tool and first aid kit: Keep a seatbelt cutter and glass breaker handy in your vehicle at all times. Be ready to cut your seat belt or break your window to escape if necessary. You should also have a first aid kit available for emergencies.
What to do During a Car Accident
In many accident situations, there’s not much you can do to make things better. In fact, you may not even see the accident coming, or it happens so fast, you can’t make any adjustments to make yourself safer. But if you do have the chance to act, consider these tips that can reduce the severity of the crash and keep you safer:
- Trust your anti-lock brake system: Most vehicles today come equipped with anti-lock brakes, a system that will pump brakes faster than you’re able to in order to slow down your vehicle efficiently. If you need to brake quickly, just hold your brakes firmly and allow the ABS to pump your brakes for you. You may feel the pedal vibrate so that you know it’s working. This system works best when your wheels are pointed straight forward.
- Slow down: Speed is one of the most dangerous factors in any accident. The faster you or the other vehicle is going, the more of an impact there will be. If you see an accident coming, do your best to minimize your speed.
- Consider acceleration: In an accident, more speed is often the last thing you want to add to the equation, but in some situations, it’s the right choice. If it is possible for you to speed up and get out of the way, this is a smart action to take.
- Remain in control or regain control of your vehicle: If your car starts to skid, steer in the direction of the skid. Avoid braking or pressing the accelerator until your tires regain traction. Always keep a firm grip on the wheel, and do your best to remain calm.
- Avoid sudden movements: Respond quickly but smoothly to potential accidents. Avoid jerking your steering wheel or slamming on the brakes unless it is absolutely necessary, as these actions could cause you to lose control of the vehicle.
- Aim for the object that will do the least damage: If hitting something is inevitable, do your best to steer toward an area that is likely to cause less damage. That means if you have a choice, steer for the bushes rather than oncoming traffic. Of course, keep in mind that big trees may be more dangerous to hit than other objects, and new road signs may be designed to snap off on impact. Ultimately, try to avoid head-on collisions with other vehicles or running into secure immovable objects like concrete barriers.
- Stay in a normal driving position: Hunching, ducking, or anything that moves you out of the normal driving position can make your injuries worse, as vehicle safety systems are designed to protect you in this position. Ducking can cause your head to hit the steering wheel or dashboard and get you too close to the airbag as it deploys. Moving your arms in front of your steering wheel could put them in the way of your airbag as well. Stay upright and hold the steering wheel for the best protection.
What to do After a Car Accident
Even after an accident has passed, you may not be out of danger. Rubberneckers, fire, and injuries that are not yet apparent are still quite dangerous. Get help and stay safe with these tips.
- Call 911 for help: As soon as you can, call authorities to help attend to your emergency. This will ensure that you get medical attention and clear the accident as soon as possible.
- Assess whether it’s safe to leave your vehicle: Your car may be the safest place to be even after a crash. Getting out on the highway where there may be rubberneckers or while other vehicles are crashing around you in a multiple-vehicle pileup can put you in serious danger if you’ve exited the car. Assess whether there is moving traffic and if you have injuries that might require you to stay still. Leave if it is safe to do so, but remember that the safest place to be maybe in your seat with your seat belt still fastened.
- Reduce the risk of fire: Turn off your engine, do not smoke, and do not allow anyone else to smoke. The accident may have resulted in a leak of flammable materials, such as gas. Leaving your car running or smoking in the area can cause vapors to ignite.
- Apply first aid: Find your first aid kit and attend to any injuries that you can handle until emergency services arrive.
- Get out if there’s danger: If there’s a fire or you’ve landed in water, you’ll need to exit your vehicle and help any passengers get out as soon as possible. This is particularly tricky if you’re in water. As soon as your vehicle hits water, get out. Open your window immediately to give yourself the best chance of escape. Remember that it will be difficult if not impossible to open your door with water pressure. Break side windows with your foot or a safety tool. Do not attempt to break the windshield as it is designed for impact. Leave everything behind except for other people.