How to Survive a Car Collision

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Even the best defensive driving classes and split-second decisions may not prevent you from becoming the victim of a life-threatening auto accident. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the annual number of fatal collisions hovers around 40 thousand. As a driver, you should continually educate yourself and exhibit attentiveness and self-control on the roadways so you're more prepared to survive an auto accident.

  • Ready yourself mentally before you get on the road. Since you'll generally have little time to contemplate a course of action when faced with an oncoming collision, it is important to remain focused at all times. Turn off your cell phone, put away your hairbrush and turn down your radio. Be mindfully present when you're driving--not distracted.

  • Have your mechanic test and service your restraint and safety systems on an annual basis. Airbags and seat belts save countless lives each year, but only if they are in proper working order. If you purchase a used car, have the integrity of the safety systems evaluated before you begin to drive the car regularly.

  • Service your brakes, tires, transmission and suspension systems according to dealer recommendations, and sooner if you suspect a problem. Your car will only react as well as its systems are maintained. Driving with worn brake pads and bald tires may cause an accident to become serious, or even fatal.

  • Remain upright, gripping the steering wheel tightly at 10 and 2 o'clock and bracing yourself for a collision. Do not allow your body to go limp, as you need increased muscle tone and rigidity to protect your organs, spinal discs and skeletal system. It is better to suffer from sore muscles than a ruptured spleen or spinal fracture following an accident.

  • Get out of the vehicle and move away from the area if you can walk on your own. If you begin to smell smoke or see flames, run away from the car immediately to avoid an explosion. Your ability to survive may depend on your speed in extricating yourself from the vehicle and the accident scene.

  • Bail out of your vehicle immediately if it is headed toward or floating in a body of water. Once an automobile sinks below the water's surface, the doors and windows become nearly impossible to open due to the intense water pressure. If your door is stuck shut, kick out a window to exit the vehicle.

  • Resist the urge to duck toward the steering wheel before a collision. Upon impact, your head may strike the wheel and render you unconscious. In addition, if your vehicle is equipped with airbags, you could sustain serious burns from the airbag explosive or other damage due to the airbag's facial impact.

  • Sit at least 10 inches away from the steering wheel if your vehicle is equipped with an airbag. If you're seated closer, the airbag could break your ribs, or cause lung damage or other serious internal conditions. If you are too short to reach the pedals without moving the seat forward, purchase pedal extenders from a company like Creative Controls, Inc. or PedalExtenders.com (see Resources below).

  • Adjust your headrest so it sits just above your ears. If your headrest is too low, you could incur serious or fatal cervical damage when your head impacts the rest.

  • Wear your seatbelt properly. Do not put the chest harness behind your back, as wearing only your lap belt subjects the spine to serious trauma upon collision impact.

Tips & Warnings

  • Take safety measures to ensure that your children survive if you're in an accident. Regularly check the positioning and security of car seats and child booster seats, and visit a local fire or police department to have your car seat installation reviewed on an annual basis.
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