How to survive common roadway emergencies

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A car has struck a tree head-on.

Roadway emergencies like this can be dealt with calmly and safely. (Photo Credit: Public Domain/Thue/Wikipedia)

Many drivers don’t know how deal with roadway emergencies when they encounter them. Confusion and panic reign, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Armed with information, you can learn how to survive common roadway emergencies by taking basic safety precautions.

Don’t panic, act

When driving emergencies present themselves, the proper course of action is reaction. Sometimes a driver only has a brief moment in which the course can be corrected and an auto accident is avoided. Panic and confusion are natural human responses to danger, but this can be overcome through knowledge of how to respond in specific roadway emergency situations.

Wear your seatbelt

While wearing seatbelts remains the law of the land, it is still worth noting how much of a difference wearing a safety harness can make when it comes to saving your life during a car crash. The National Safety Commission reports that chances of survival go up by at least 55 percent when a seatbelt is properly worn. It’s greatly preferable to being thrown through the windshield when you slam on the brakes.

Control the panic reflex

Panic and survival typically don’t go hand in hand, as the flight impulse can cause people to make bad choices. Remain calm, observe your surroundings and make a good choice within the time available to you. If an auto accident is inevitable, you’ll want to use your mental faculties to begin planning a safe escape route for yourself and passengers, as the car will likely be unsafe and blocking the roadway. If you’re panicked, you’re as likely to run in front of a speeding car as you are to leave the scene without further incident.

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Understand your airbag safety devices

In the event of airbag deployment during an auto accident, the vehicle is not necessarily on fire. Accident victims frequently think their car is on fire because the folds of the airbag are coated with talcum powder to keep the rubberized fabric from sticking to itself. Some people mistake the sudden presence of the powder in the cab of the car for an automatically deployed, flame-retardant substance, or they mistake the cloud of talcum powder for smoke, when in reality the smoke from a fire would be dark and oily.

Another reason drivers who have been in a car crash jump to the conclusion that their car is on fire when the airbag deploys is that upon impact, a small explosive charge within the airbag ignites two chemicals that react to form the nitrogen gas that fills the airbag. Not only can the driver hear the explosion, but the smell is reminiscent of smoke from a fire.

Ultimately, airbags are not effective if seatbelts are not worn. So once again, the top driving emergencies tip is to wear a seatbelt at all times while the car is in operation.

Smashing the glass

If you’re trapped inside an auto wreck and cannot open the doors or windows, smashing the window glass can be extremely difficult. Auto parts stores sell a variety of devices that you can use to extricate yourself from the situation, however. A spring-loaded punch tool that can be used to shatter the tempered glass window costs about $10. Thankfully, such windows are designed to shatter into many small pieces, rather than large, sharp shards that can cut flesh. Just be sure to shield your eyes as you use the tool.

If you have freedom of movement, a tool like the LifeHammer (see the Safe Home Products link below) can help you break the glass, too. However, such tools are also equipped with a cutting edge that can be used to cut through a seatbelt in the event that they cannot easily be disengaged. Keep this and any other driving emergency tool close to the driver’s seat, but make sure it is also secure so that it doesn’t fly around and go under the seat during an auto accident.

How to help your teen avoid/survive a driving emergency


Drive to Survive program:


National Safety Commission

Safe Home Products

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