Seatbelts & Survival

It’s not if but when…

Most drivers, no matter how carefully they drive, will be involved in at least one vehicle collision during their lifetime. Your chances of being injured or killed in a vehicle collision are greater than you might think. One person in three will be injured or killed.

So what is the single best thing you can do to increase your chances of walking away from an automobile accident?

Wear your seat belt. Wearing your seatbelt is one of the most important things you can do to survive a car crash. Make sure that your lap belt sits low on your hipbones and that the shoulder belt goes across the center of your chest. Children should be seated in proper child restraints until they are large enough to properly wear a lap and shoulder belt.

The work I did in Iraq involved a lot of high speed driving. We rarely wore seatbelts because the idea of having to quickly evacuate the car and getting caught up in the seatbelt was a nightmare. Hell with all of the gear we wore it was hard enough to get out. But when the leading cause of injury in the crew I was working with was from automobile related accidents I went against the “trapped” fear and started strapping in anytime the speed of the vehicle was over 35mph. It paid off.

Other safety features. I absolutely love classic cars, but understand that there is a reason traffic fatalities are at an all time low. Many of these older cars have only lap belts, seats without head support, and NO airbags.

Airbags. Since model year 1998, all new cars sold in the United States have been required to have airbags on both driver and passenger sides. (Light trucks came under the rule in 1999.) Then came seat-mounted and door-mounted side airbags. Today, some cars go far beyond having dual airbags to having six or even eight airbags.

To date, statistics show that airbags reduce the risk of dying in a direct frontal crash by about 30 percent.

Timing is crucial in the airbag’s ability to save lives in a head-on collision. An airbag must be able to deploy in a matter of milliseconds from the initial collision impact. It is designed to begin deflating immediately following deployment. Because of the possibility of an airbag deployment I recommend driving with your hands at the 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock positions on the steering wheel vise the standard 2 and 10. This will provide a “clear path” for the bag to deploy without sending your arms and hands into your face. Do not place objects on top of the air bag enclosure or you may end up eating it.

Newton’s Law. An object in motion will stay in motion. When you get in an accident and stop abruptly, things like books, cell phones, golf clubs don’t realize this and keep moving. If an object could become a projectile during a crash, either remove it from the car, or stow it in the trunk, or, in the case of a minivan, in the well behind the seat.

Vehicle maintenance. You can greatly decrease the chances of an accident by simply maintaining your vehicle. Pay particular attention to the condition of your brakes and tires. The extra 1000 miles you are trying to get out of your tires could mean the difference between avoiding an accident and being the cause of it.

Common sense rarely common. Obey traffic laws and be conscious of current conditions. Adjust your driving if in heavy traffic or inclement weather. Sixty mph may be safe when it’s dry, but if a sudden rain falls, wetting the roadway and raising oil off the ground, it will probably be safer to drive at a lower speed.

Focus. While driving, avoid using cell phones, reading maps, eating and other distracting activities. In this wonderful age of electronics a spike of accidents resulting from multi-tasking while driving is occurring with texting/emailing while driving leading the pack.

Anticipate potential problems. Yet again driving is something that requires a high degree of situational awareness. Observe the road looking for things that could end up causing an accident. Drive defensively from the moment you start your engine until you turn it off. As an avid motorcyclist I am constantly trying to anticipate what the driver’s around me will do next. Keep your head on a swivel. Look ahead for cars or pedestrians that may move into your car’s path. Keeping a safe distance behind other vehicles (following the “two second rule”) can help you have enough time to react when a vehicle in front of you makes an unexpected move. Stay away from distracted drivers (e.g., the driver texting which has become a leading cause for auto accidents, tailgaters and other drivers engaging in risky behaviors. Keep an eye on parked cars. They may pull out in front of you; people may exit from them or move from between them without much warning.

Avoid or minimize an accident
1. Stay calm. If an accident appears imminent, you need to respond quickly but smoothly. Vehicles of all types respond better to smooth steering and braking inputs.
2. Choose your course of action. You need to decide what combination of steering, braking and accelerating will best serve to avoid or minimize the harm from an accident.
3. Brake with control. Braking practices vary depending upon whether your vehicle has antilock brakes. No antilock brakes – If your car lack antilock brakes, you need to pump the brakes to keep the car under control. If you slam on the brakes, your car will start to skid and you will lose control. You cannot steer a vehicle when the brakes are locked. Press firmly, then release. If you feel the tires start to skid release the brakes before steering. Antilock brakes – Do not pump antilock brakes. Your car’s ABS computer will pulse them much faster than you can (you will feel the pedal vibrate a bit when this occurs). Just hold the brakes firmly and steer normally.
4. Steer smoothly. – Very jerky motions of the steering wheel, especially with heavy vehicles or those with light rear ends (e.g., pickup trucks) are likely to lead to skids.
5. Accelerate if needed. Although it seems counter-intuitive, sometimes the best way to avoid an accident is to speed up and get out of the way.
6. Take steps to recover if you start to skid or lose control. If your car starts to skid or if a tire blows, follow these steps to control the car. Don’t hit the brakes. This will only make things worse. Keep a firm grip on the wheel. Steer in the direction of the skid. If the back of your car is sliding to the driver’s left, turn the wheels to the left. Wait for your tires to regain traction before braking or pressing the accelerator.

I’m going to crash. Avoid head-on collisions into other vehicles or front-end collisions into immovable objects like large trees or concrete barriers. Do as much as you can to control your car’s speed. The faster the impact, the more damage it will cause. Avoid side impacts. Serious injury is likely to result if another car strikes your car on the side where it is much weaker structurally.

Be a survivor… not a statistic!

Cade Courtley
Former Navy SEAL / 4Patriots Contributor

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