Getting into a car accident is bad news. Even if you walk away from it without a scratch, it's stressful and traumatic and inevitably opens you up for a bunch of post-accident headaches. Unfortunately, the law of averages doesn't work in your favor. Actuarial studies show that drivers, on average, are going to get into a car accident of some sort every 18 years (your mileage may vary, of course).
The good news is that thanks to modern technologies such as seatbelts, airbags, side curtain airbags, vehicle stability control, traction control, crumple zones and ABS brakes, survivability in an accident is hugely improved over what it was 40 or 50 years ago. Still, if the worst happens, you need to know what to do.
Common sense tells you that safe driving habits will greatly reduce your chances of being in an accident. That means all the stuff you've heard a hundred times before: watching your speed and following distances, don't drive drowsy, don't drive distracted and always, always wear your seatbelts.
Also, make sure your car is well maintained (especially tires and brakes) and that any loose objects that weigh more than a pound or so are secured. Anything loose in the car's interior turns into a missile in the event of a collision.
But then one day, the worst happens. Someone blows a stop sign and T-bones your car, or a distracted driver rear-ends you. What then?
Here are some things to remember for the event you hope doesn't happen.
- The first priority is your safety, and that of the people in the other vehicle. If the vehicles can be moved, get them off the road and out of traffic as soon as possible. Make sure everyone is OK, and if anyone is seriously injured in any vehicle call 911 and wait for first responders to arrive — don't attempt to move the injured person . If there are minor injuries like cuts and bruises, administer first aid (you should have a first aid kit in your vehicle).
- You should have flares or reflective safety triangles in your vehicle. Place a flare or triangle about 200 feet on the other side of the collision to alert other drivers there's trouble ahead.
- Use your cell phone's camera and get multiple photos of the crash site and the damage to both vehicles. It'll help a lot when it's time to file an insurance claim, and it can be useful to the police for accident reconstruction. You will, of course, want to exchange insurance information with the other driver as soon as possible.
Have A Trouble Kit
The best thing you can do is to make sure you're prepared for any emergency that might happen on the road. That means having a well-equipped trouble bag and taking a few precautions. Your trouble bag should include:
- Fire extinguisher (self-explanatory)
- Sharp knife, which is indispensable should you have to cut through a seatbelt
- Small tool kit or good-quality multi-tool
- Jumper cables or jump box
- Duct tape
- Insurance card, or at least an insurance app on your smartphone
- Power bank for charging smartphone or other devices
- Flashlight— many now feature a strobe or flasher to attract attention at, with a heavy-duty butt end that can be used to smash a car window if necessary
- Can of Fix-A-Flat or other similar product; an air compressor can also be a good idea, although they're a little bulky
- First aid kit (mentioned above)
- Triangles or flares (mentioned above)
- High-protein snacks like nuts or beef jerky
And if you're in a cold climate or traveling in winter:
- Blanket, knit cap, gloves and sweater
- Ice scraper & De-Icer
- Kitty litter (perfect for traction in snow)
- Tire chains or tire socks, a new innovation that's a lot easier to use than chains
If you have a collision that's worse than just a fender bender, forget about your car. Late model vehicles are designed to crumple in a collision, and that's what protects the occupants. Let the insurance company sort out the damage to your car. Your safety is far, far more important than your vehicle. If you know what to do in this difficult, stressful situation, you'll be a lot better off.
Have you ever been involved in a crash of any kind? Did you know what to do?