When you’re out on the highway driving to your destination, you probably aren’t thinking about an accident, but one can happen in an instant. According to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS), there were 32,676 people that died in motor-related vehicle crashes in 2014. Some of the most common types of fatal accidents involve:

  • Improper turns
  • Reckless or careless driving
  • Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Failure to keep in the proper lane
  • Driving on the wrong side of the road
  • Operating without required equipment

Most of the time, fatal crashes can be avoided by driving in the right state of mind, driving defensively, and being aware of your surroundings. However, freak accidents do occur, and you must be able to act in the moment. Being prepared beforehand and following the steps listed here can help you survive what can be one of the most traumatic events the average person may experience.

Part 1 of 4: Prepare ahead of time

Step 1: Select a car which comes with the latest safety devices. Newer models are equipped with advanced technology to help you avoid crashes as well as lessening the impact when one occurs. Some common safety features found in today’s models include:

  • ABS brakes- The Anti-Lock Braking System is designed to help the driver maintain steering while braking. This system prevents the wheels from locking and prevents uncontrolled skidding.

  • Airbags for the driver and passengers - Airbags are used to protect the occupants of the car in the case of a collision. Some vehicles have more advanced airbag deployment systems that can predict a crash before it happens, while other systems support front, side, and rear airbag deployment.

  • Electronic stability control - This system detects a reduction in traction and automatically applies the brakes to help steer the vehicle where it would like to go.

  • Forward collision warning: This technology uses radars, lasers, or camera’s to alert you if a crash is imminent based on your speed and position related to the car in front of you. In these systems, the car will brake for you if it detects a potential crash in front of you.

  • Lane keeping assist - This is a technology that will alert the driver when they are drifting out of a traffic lane.

  • Post-crash alert system - In the event that you are unable to respond after an accident, a post-crash alert system can alert others in the event of a collision.

  • Roll mitigation control - This technology prevents wheel lift by appropriately applying the brakes when it detects a sharp turn of the steering wheel at higher speeds.

  • Tip: Check the safety ratings of a vehicle before you purchase it by visiting the website of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Step 2: Perform regular maintenance. Have your car maintained regularly and have all safety systems checked out by a mechanic.

A brake inspection can prevent an accident while a safety inspection ensures all components are working correctly to aid you in a car crash.

Have your steering and suspension checked if you feel that there is any change in its the car’s responsiveness to the wheel

Check all of your lights (headlights, taillights, brakes, and turn signals) to make sure they are working properly and give you sufficient lighting while driving.

Have your tires checked regularly to ensure they have plenty of grip. Inspect the grooves of the tire to see how worn out they look or have a professional let you know if you need replacements.

Step 3: Ensure everyone is secured in the vehicle. Attach seatbelts and check to make sure the car seat or booster is in the correct position for any children riding with you.

Attach your seatbelt and make sure everyone else is buckled up. Don’t lean forward when you’re driving because impact could cause the airbags to inflate and result in injury.

Step 4: Secure loose items. Store loose objects in the glove box, center console or other storage compartments to prevent them from flying through the air in an accident.

Part 2 of 4: Follow driving habits

Step 1: Pay attention to signs and traffic lights. Make sure that you are always aware of signs and traffic lights on the road.

Don’t be an aggressive driver. For example, don’t rush to get through the yellow light and be careful when making lane changes or driving through crowded areas.

If you know that you are not in the right state of mind to drive, take all the time you need before getting on the road.

Step 2: Consider the weather and road conditions when driving. Reduce your speed limit below what is required if roads are wet or slippery.

Step 3: Pay attention to your driving and to other cars around you. Always make sure that you are aware of the road, cars, and pedestrians in your surroundings.

Avoid using your cell phone even if it isn’t illegal in your state.

Stop to read a map or set your GPS before continuing your trip.

Don’t allow anything, such as eating, drinking or switching radio stations to take your focus off the road.

Step 4: Practice defensive driving. Watch for potential issues, such as people crossing in the crosswalk or vehicles weaving in and out of their lanes.

  • Stay a safe distance behind other vehicles, especially those with their signal light or brake light on.

Part 3 of 4: Minimize a collision

Step 1: Slow down if a collision is imminent. Slow down as quickly as possible if you see a collision is likely.

Slower impact will reduce the severity of any crashes and reduce the risk of injury.

According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), risk of driver fatality in a frontal crash is approximately 3% with speeds under 30 mph.

At speeds over 50 mph, the risk of fatality in frontal collisions dramatically increases to approximately 60%.

Step 2: Keep both hands on the wheel. Tightly grasp the steering wheel to control the vehicle and avoid collision.

In some cases, swerving out of the way is the best way to avoid an accident, while other times, just slowing down is all you can do.

Step 3: Steer as smoothly as possible. Avoid jerking the steering wheel in another direction, which can increase the likelihood of an accident or the vehicle flipping over.

  • Tip: For wet or slick pavement, remember to steer with the direction of the slide to allow your car the chance to automatically correct itself and avoid crashing. Over correcting your vehicle while steering can lead to loss of control of your vehicle.

Part 4 of 4: Follow proper procedure after the accident

Step 1: Turn off the engine immediately after a crash. Both vehicles should be turned off following a crash.

This reduces the risk of a fire in case any flammable materials have begun to leak.

This also mitigates the risk of any moving parts on the vehicle causing injury to anyone involved.

Step 2: Call for help. Call for help immediately even if your car is equipped with a post-crash alert system.

Dial 911 on your phone or have someone else call emergency services for you. Most ambulances are required to arrive at the location within 10 minutes of the call.

Step 3: Determine the extent of injuries. Try to determine the presence of mind for everyone who is in the car with you.

Find out if they know the extent of their injuries.

Don’t try to move anyone who cannot get out of the vehicle on their own. If you’re able to get out of the vehicle, do so.

  • Tip: Get checked out by medical staff after an accident even if you don’t think you’re injured. Some injuries may not be obvious immediately, especially if you’re in shock.

A car accident is never a situation that you want to see yourself or anyone else be in. Your best protection from an accident will always be to drive safe and prevent one from ever happening. However, if an accident seems imminent, there are steps that you can take to try and protect yourself and the riders of your car.

If you would like to have a full safety inspection conducted on your car, a certified mechanic, such as one from YourMechanic, can come to your home or office to perform services for you. They will be able to to make sure that your brakes, airbags, tires, and other safety-relevant features are up to par and ready to protect you in the case of an accident.

This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as How to Handle a Car Accident and was authored by Joyce Morse.

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