Understanding & Avoiding Collisions
Preventing Traffic Accidents

Preventing Traffic Accidents & Minimizing The Damages

Updated Nov. 1, 2019

If you avoid driving aggressively, are alert behind the wheel and scan the roadway effectively, you should be able to spot emergency situations before a collision becomes inevitable. So, when you can see a potentially dangerous situation developing nearby – what then? This module will teach you how to deal with emergencies and avoid the different types of collision discussed earlier in the section.

When a hazard appears on the roadway, you must begin by considering the most likely consequences of the situation. This will allow you to decide on an appropriate course of defensive or evasive action to avoid a collision. Remember that you must only adjust your driving behavior as much as is necessary to avoid danger. Making sudden changes to your speed or direction in response to a hazard will probably turn your vehicle into a hazard for other road users. If you must apply the brakes, do so gradually. If you must change lanes, remember to signal your intention and merge only when there is a safe space for you to do so.

Avoiding head-on impacts

When you must evade a head-on collision, do so by moving to the right rather than the left. Only merge left if you are certain it is the only way a collision can be avoided. If the object you are avoiding is another vehicle traveling toward you in the wrong lane, against the flow of traffic, it is likely that they will seek to avoid the collision by moving to your left – so shifting in that direction would be a bad idea.

Having successfully avoided a head-on collision with the other vehicle, remember to maneuver back toward the right if you have ended up in an opposing lane of traffic. It is incredibly important to “finish-off” evasive maneuvers properly. Often, motorists are so stunned by the near-miss situation that they fail to notice new dangers they face from having changed lanes.

Avoiding rear-end collisions

You have a decent chance of avoiding a rear-end collision if you check your mirrors frequently to view the roadway behind your vehicle. You may be able to move out of harm’s way by driving forward or changing lanes, however, you should only do this if it does not create an even more dangerous situation. For instance, driving forward onto an intersection would be a bad idea if it would put you at odds with cross traffic.

When a rear-end collision cannot be avoided, moving forward or increasing your speed will reduce the force of impact and make the damage sustained during the collision less severe.

Avoiding side-impact collisions

When another vehicle is on a collision course with the side of your car, speeding up or slowing down can help you to avoid or lessen the severity of the incident. Altering your speed will change the point of impact and may even prevent a side-impact collision altogether. If you are certain the vehicle will hit you, try to manage your position so that it strikes the side of the bonnet or rear-end of the vehicle, rather than colliding with the passenger compartment head-on.

In side-on collisions, the force of impact can be reduced by steering away from the other vehicle. Always assess the wider roadway situation before steering away, to ensure it will not place you in the path of oncoming traffic, towards the edge of a cliff or in some other more significant danger.

Managing traction in emergencies

Maintaining your vehicle’s balance will probably be the last thing on your mind while taking evasive action to avoid a collision. However, remember that traction (your tire’s ability to grip the road) is dependent on the weight of the vehicle pushing the wheel down against the surface of the road. If you brake, accelerate or steer suddenly, the weight of the vehicle will be thrown forwards, backwards or sideways respectively. This could result in traction loss, and loss of control, at the worst possible time.

While slamming on the brakes to avoid hitting a hazard head-on is often a motorist’s first instinct, it is not always the most sensible course of action. If you brake hard to stop, the vehicle may skid forward and lose steering control. This will leave you with no way to steer around the hazard if you are unable to stop in time. Often, braking gradually while steering away from danger is a better option.

When you steer around a hazard, do so smoothly. Braking hard and steering sharply simultaneously will cause a powerful forward and sideways pitch that could easily make the vehicle roll over, while still traveling in the direction of the hazard you were originally trying to avoid. In an emergency, smooth, controlled speed and steering adjustments are the key to maintaining traction and keeping your vehicle under control.

If you do skid while making an evasive maneuver, remembering your driver’s training will help you to regain control. To reestablish traction and get back on course:

  1. Take your foot off the brake and accelerator pedals.
  2. Look and steer in the direction you want the car to go.
  3. Make gentle steering adjustments as you recover to prevent oversteering.

Off-road recovery

Evading a collision can lead to additional dangers, if it causes one or both your car’s right wheels to leave the edge of the roadway. If the shoulder is fully paved and is at the same level as the main driving lanes, you should have no trouble gently steering back on to the road. Unfortunately, many road shoulders are surfaced with low-traction materials such as gravel or dirt, which could cause your vehicle to skid. If the shoulder is lower than the rest of the road, the drop on the right-hand side of your vehicle could result in a sudden shift in weight that causes you to lose control. To recover from this situation and bring your vehicle back on to the road safely, it is imperative that you remain calm.

Do not steer sharply back towards the roadway, as this often results in the vehicle rolling over. Instead, reduce your speed by taking your foot off the accelerator. Only brake if it is absolutely necessary and do so as gradually as possible. When you have slowed to a safe speed, you can gently steer your vehicle back on to the roadway.

If you are at risk of colliding with an object on the shoulder (such as a tree or lamp post), you may have to get back on the road sooner than the technique described above would allow. Check out our full off-road recovery module in the “Driving in Hazardous Conditions” block, to find out how to handle this situation.

Reducing crash severity

If it becomes apparent that there is nothing you can do to avoid a crash, do not give in to panic. The decisions you make in the few moments remaining before impact could mean the difference between life and death. Even in extreme situations, there is usually some action that can be taken by the drivers involved to lessen the severity of an imminent collision. Anything you can do to decrease your speed before the collision will reduce the force of impact. Beyond that, your focus should be on steering the vehicle so that you strike the least dangerous object at the most favorable angle. For instance:

  • Hit a vehicle moving away from you rather than one moving towards you.
  • If you must hit a vehicle moving towards you, choose the vehicle with the lowest speed relative to your own.
  • Hit the softest object possible.
  • Hit a wide object rather than a narrow one.
  • Hit a loose object rather than a fixed one.
  • Collide at a wide angle rather than striking head-on.

How you are positioned and secured within your vehicle will also affect how much injury you sustain during a collision. Keeping your seat belt on at all times is essential, as this will hold you in the safest possible position. Try to stay upright and keep your head in contact with the headrest, as this will leave you better protected from severe head and neck injuries. If your vehicle is fitted with an air bag, try to keep all body parts (including your hands and arms) at least 10 inches away from the deployment zone. Facial injuries in car crashes are often caused by the victim’s arms being thrown backward into their face when the air bag deploys.

Before the moment of impact, you should also take your foot off the brake pedal. The force of an impact on your vehicle’s wheels can sometimes travel through the car and into the brake pedal. In a severe collision, this force can be powerful enough to break a person’s leg.

If you have time, brace yourself against the steering wheel, the dashboard or the sides of your seat – if you can do so without placing your arms in front of the air bag deployment zone. You can also minimize damage to your internal organs by tensing your core muscles before the impact.

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