Hundreds of people are in car collisions every day, and the odds of you being one of them at some point in your life are nearly insurmountable. The odds of you being involved in multiple crashes, for that matter, are quite high, so knowing what to do if you are involved in one is extremely important. I’ll use the knowledge I learned from responding to hundreds of collisions throughout my time in emergency services to identify what the best thing to do in that situation is.
During a Collision
Ideally when you are in a collision, you want to relax. While being completely relaxed is likely impossible, doing so as much as you can is important. In a collision, you and everything else in your vehicle is being thrown all over the vehicles cabin, and tensed muscles not only make your surface area bigger, but also increase the chances of you breaking a bone.
The reason you often hear about drunk drivers crashing hard enough to kill other people, but being able to walk away completely uninjured is because the alcohol in their system not only slows the reflexes you need to drive correctly, but also the reflexes it takes for your body to react in a collision. In essence, they are relaxing their body during a crash like everyone else does while simply having a leisurely Sunday drive.
Immediately After a Collision
Once you have come to a stop, it’s important to take in the situation. Are you hurt? Where are you hurt? Look over your entire body as much as you can for any sign of blood, and feel for any pain. If you are uninjured, take a look at how the vehicle came to rest. If it is on its top or side and you aren’t in any immediate danger (the car isn’t on fire, you don’t smell gasoline, etc.), remain in the vehicle until help arrives.
If you do see some kind of immediate danger, get yourself out of the vehicle by any means necessary. If windows are not already broken, use your shoed feet to hit them repeatedly until they do. Crawl away from the vehicle as far as you can, and stay put until help arrives.
What About Family and Friends?
If you have family or friends in the vehicle, I fully realize that you probably don’t care what I write here about them as you are likely to try and do what you can to get them out. Do what you have to do if they are in danger, but I urge you not to try and get anyone out that is physically capable of getting out of the vehicle themselves.
If you have children in the vehicle, be sure to tell responders where they are, if they are still in the vehicle, and if where at in the vehicle they’re at if that is the case. Even if they are in your arms or standing next to you, please tell the responders that you have them and that they are all accounted for if they are, in fact, all accounted for. As a responder, I can tell you nothing is worse than seeing signs of children from a crash such as stuffed animals and not instantly knowing where the kids are. For that matter, even if no children were with you but you have toys or car seats and other children’s things in your car, let the responders know that you didn’t have them with you. It saves us a terrible panic.
Getting the Vehicle Moved
Most police departments have a list of tow companies. It is your responsibility to get the vehicle towed (if the collision wasn’t your fault, it’s likely that the driver at fault will be forced to pay the fees, but that is down the road and a reimbursement). The police will ask if you have a tow company you’d prefer to use, and I suggest saying yes and calling for a good price. The lists that the police have are through agreements with the company, and often are given out in rotation so that the companies get equal business from the police.
It’s important to note as well that depending on your vehicle, some tow companies simply won’t be able to help you. Extremely large vehicles such as semi-trucks require special tow trucks, and the numbers of companies that have that equipment are likely quite limited. The police should be able to tell you if that is indeed the case.
National Safety Council