Every year there are six million car accidents in the United States, with over 30,000 involving fatalities. Knowing what to do in a life-threatening situation can be crucial to your survival. Here are some tips on what to do in a car accident. (See also: Emergency Situations You Must Prepare For)
1. Prepare Yourself in Advance
Being prepared for emergencies is always beneficial. Consider keeping these items in your glove box as you never know when they’ll come in handy: a cheap multifunctional tool like a combination seat belt cutter and window breaker, pen/pencil and paper (for taking notes at the scene or copying down insurance information), an emergency backup battery for your phone, a disposable camera for photos, and a first aid kit. If you’re planning on driving your car often, always make sure your car passes safety inspections with flying colors, as a faulty system can mean the difference between life and death. Also make sure flammable materials are secured before driving.
2. If You Know the Collision Is About to Happen, Prepare Your Body
Relaxing the body before impact is a popular myth, but most chiropractors believe it will not help minimize injury sustained in a car crash. If you do anticipate a car accident, keep your wrists straight and your hands on the steering wheel at 10 and 2 and keep your head back against the headrest instead of leaning forward to minimize the force of impact of the air bag. (See also: Lifesaving Skills Everyone Should Know)
3. Assess Your Situation
This sounds easier said than done, but making a conscious effort to focus on what is happening can be the difference between life and death. Assess your situation, take an inventory of your body and your surroundings, and notice if there are any injuries or anything that seems like it will turn into a hazardous situation (like leaking gasoline). By figuring out what exactly has happened you allow your mind to create a plan and work out the next steps.
4. Call 911 Yourself If You Can
The “Bystander Effect” describes the situation when a group of two or more individuals don’t act during an emergency because they think the other(s) have probably already taken action. This is not the time to make assumptions. If you’re able to do it on your own, call 911 and report the situation. If you’re unable to but are able to communicate with another person at the scene, explicitly point to them and say “Call 911.” By giving them a direct order, you remove the Bystander Effect, as now one specific person has been given the responsibility.
5. Turn Off Your Engine and Don’t Smoke
As soon as you’re able to, put the car in park and turn the engine off. This minimizes the potential for further circulation of flammable materials. Also, if you’re a smoker, then chances are this is definitely one of the times you need a smoke to calm down. But don’t light up just yet, as there could be flammable materials in the air or on your clothing. Don’t let others smoke around the accident, either, until police or the fire department have assessed the situation.
6. Get to a Safe Area
If you’re able to get out of your car, you should move to a safe clearing away from the scene as soon as possible. Not only will this prevent further injuries from the aftermath of the crash, but it will also help you to assess the situation and treat any minor sustained trauma. (See also: What to Do If You Get a Huge Medical Bill)
7. Exchange Details
If another driver has been involved in the accident, and they’re safe, now is the time to get all relevant details to each other. Make sure to get names, addresses, insurance information, phone numbers, and any other relevant details that you feel will be needed.
8. Approach Witnesses
If there were bystanders who are able to give accounts of the accident, it’s best to get their information, too, and ask them to stay until the police show up to take a statement. If there are serious damages or injuries, having a witness testimony can help you when it’s your word against the other driver’s.
9. Contact Your Insurance Company
Most policies require you to contact your insurer within 24 hours of an accident so make sure to let your insurance agency know as soon as possible. Some agencies now have smartphone apps that will help you take pictures and file your claim. (See also: Car Insurance Shopping Mistakes)