How To Survive A Car Crash

The Best Way To Survive A Crash

Driving is a skill like any other. And, to learn a skill, you need to learn what to practice, then do just that repeatedly until you achieve competence. And, as with any inherently dangerous activity, that should be done in a safe, controlled environment where the only variable is you. That not only removes most of the danger, but it speeds up your learning curve, allowing you to experiment and push hard enough to make mistakes, then learn from them.

You simply can’t achieve that on a public road. Simply logging miles in an unchallenging environment is not practice. You are not advancing your driving skills by sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, listening to the radio.

Yes, advanced driving tuition on a race track or closed environment is expensive. Skip Barber’s “Teen Safety And Survival School” costs $995 for a single day of tuition. I’m preaching enough here so I won’t ask you what value you put on your life, but simply compare that thousand bucks to all the money you spend on your cars, accident repairs, insurance and hospital bills over a lifetime of driving; a thousand bucks is insignificant when the advantage you get from it — competent driving — is so great.

The best way to survive a crash is not to have one in the first place. Learn to drive with expertise, then drive safely. No car is capable of keeping you safe in any accident; your own skills are your best chance at survival.

Proper Seatbelt Use

For the rest of the article, let’s assume that an accident is inevitable and not something you can drive your way out of. Maybe you’re a passenger in an Uber or you just want to know how to increase your odds once circumstances leave your control.

The first line of accident safety is the humble seatbelt. The NHTSA says that half of all accident deaths could be prevented by proper seatbelt usage. There’s no statistics on how many people don’t wear them correctly, but anecdotally it’s a lot. So let’s look at how to do that; your seatbelt is no good unless you’re using it right.

The NHTSA advises:

  • A shoulder harness is worn across the shoulder and chest with minimal, if any slack. The shoulder harness should not be worn under the arm or behind the back. Wearing the harness the wrong way could cause serious internal injuries in a crash.
  • The lap belt should be adjusted so that it is snug and lies low across your hips after fastening. If you have an automatic shoulder belt, be sure to buckle your lap belt as well. Otherwise, in a collision you could slide out of the belt and be hurt or killed.
  • You should be seated upright with your back against the seat and feet on the floor. Improper seating positions, such as slouching or resting one’s feet on the dashboard can result in reduced effectiveness of the vehicle’s restraint system and possibly result in injury.

The basic idea is that the lap belt needs to sit against your hip bones, using those “hard points” to restrain your body in a crash. It should be worn almost horizontally flat across your lap. Higher and the extreme forces will cause the seatbelt to pulverize your organs and you could actually slide below it, in which case the airbag won’t work properly.

Some newer cars are actually adding airbags to the seat bases to lift the seat when those explode, preventing this “submarining.” You can achieve the same effect simply by making sure your lap belt is snug and actually across your lap, not your stomach.

In a racing car, where 5-point harnesses protect the driver in a crash instead of airbags, the idea is to cinch those down as tightly as possible. This minimizes the amount your body travels and builds momentum before “hitting” the belts. At high speeds, even a tiny bit of movement caused by slack can break bones. While this effect is not as extreme in a road car, the lesson everyone can learn is that a tighter, closer fitting seatbelt is a safer one. Keep both your lap and shoulder belts snug and properly positioned. Do not allow foreign objects — large belt buckles and similar — to sit between your body and the belts and do not become twisted in them.

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