Tag Archives: autosafety

Why You Should Never Leave Your Car After a Highway Crash

Why You Should Never Leave Your Car After a Highway Crash
Your car is the safest place to be after a high-speed collision. If it weren’t, you wouldn’t have survived the collision.

Crashes are frightening, even when we have time to anticipate them. They break our illusions of a world within our control and remind us–if we’re lucky enough to live through them–of just how vulnerable we are. Unfortunately, even with a fundamental knowledge of best practices in driver safety, it’s all-too-easy to find ourselves in situations where we make the wrong decisions under stress. Today we’re going to look at a tragic example of why you should (almost) never leave your car, minivan, SUV, or pickup truck after a highway collision.

Why shouldn’t you leave your vehicle after a highway collision?

Why You Should Never Leave Your Car After a Highway Crash
Stay away from undivided highways whenever possible.

Let’s say you were just in a crash. More specifically, let’s say you were driving down a two-lane undivided highway (a bad idea) at night (another bad idea) and speeding (yet another bad idea) in winter without winter tires (you get where this is going). Perhaps you’ve also been drinking (one more bad idea), since it was New Year’s Day (or any other holiday where drunk driving rates increase). And for good measure, let’s say you’re tired (which, just like every other risk factor above, impairs your judgment). At this point, it might be a miracle you’re still on the road and in your lane.

Let’s say you leave your lane.

And you drive into the path of another vehicle.

And before you have time to react (keep in mind how quickly you cover distance before you can react, and how much more distance you need for your brakes to bring you to a stop), you hit that vehicle in a head-on collision. Per Vision Zero, if that collision occurred at above 43 mph (which it almost certainly did, since undivided highways in the US typically have 55 mph+ speed limits), there’s a good chance, statistically, that someone’s going to die. And someone does. Out of you, the driver, and front-seat passenger in the other vehicle, the other driver dies immediately.

You, however, survive. You survive well enough (due to the design of your vehicle, perhaps) to open the door, conscious, and leave your vehicle. It’s in the middle of the road with the other vehicle, and you walk to the side of the road in the dark and try to orient yourself to what just happened. Maybe you start trying to figure out where your phone is so you can call for help. Maybe you’re just trying to catch your breath because you’re crying and in shock and freezing; it’s the middle of the night in January, after all.

All of a sudden, night turns into day–except it’s not daytime. It’s another car coming down the highway (also speeding, in all likelihood). At this point, you’re a pedestrian. Your odds of being hit by a vehicle and surviving drop from 95% at 20 mph to 5% at 40 mph.

The speed limit, once again, is at least 55 mph, and most people speed.

The driver doesn’t see you. The driver does see the vehicles in the middle of the road, but due to a combination of the aforementioned factors (speeding, darkness, inappropriate tires, fatigue) can’t stop in time, and swerves off the side of the road…

…right into you. And everything goes black. Forever.

If you don’t get far enough off the highway, you have a high chance of being killed by a passing vehicle

If this sounds like a nightmare, it’s because it is. But it also happened, as best as we can tell, somewhat like the dramatization above, on New Year’s Day in 2018. The town was Milton, the highway was 59, and the people involved were Kelsea  Ann Anderson, 23, and Tracy Ann Stolen, 34. Anderson  drove a 2011-era Jeep Grand Cherokee northbound somewhere around 3:30 AM when she left her lane and crashed into Stolen, who was southbound in a Chrysler Town & Country. Miguel C. Baladez, 26, a passenger in the van, survived the crash and was hospitalized in stable condition.

Anderson survived the crash, left the vehicle, stood by the gravel shoulder, and was soon hit by 30-year old Andrew Kuehne driving a GMC Acadia. Kuehne, who was driving to work, saw the crash, believed he could not stop in time, swerved to avoid it, and hit Anderson, who died after being taken to a hospital. Investigators have suggested Anderson had been drinking.

To increase your chances of survival after a high-speed crash, stay in your vehicle unless it’s on fire or sinking

Why You Should Never Leave Your Car After a Highway Crash
Your car is designed to protect you. Use it like your life depended on it.

Your odds of survival while ensconced in a multi-ton vehicle–even a damaged one–are far, far greater than your odds of survival on the side of the road if you’re about to be hit by another multi-ton vehicle at high speeds. While it goes against our instincts to get off the road or get away from the crash, I’d recommend remaining in your vehicle unless it presents an imminent danger to do so.

As this tragic story indicates, drivers are more likely to swerve off the road to avoid vehicles in the road than they are to hit said vehicles in the road. If you’re in a large, heavy target, other drivers will avoid you out of self-preservation, if for no other reason. If you’re a human-sized object on the side of the road and conditions are less than perfect–weather-wise or in terms of the mental states of the drivers approaching you–you’re at far greater odds of being hit than anything else.

Stay inside to stay alive.

Stay inside to stay alive. It’s short, it’s simple, and in most cases, it’s true. It’s even easier to do if your vehicle isn’t in the middle of the road after a crash or flat tire. Even if it is, however, it’s still going to be better than being just a few feet away from your vehicle. I’ve read too many cases of people surviving crashes, just as Anderson did, only to be killed by other drivers who directly hit them or who hit their vehicles–the vehicles that just saved their lives–driving their vehicles into them as they stood beside their vehicles.

Stay inside to stay alive.

Mike, why do you call these situations crashes or collisions instead of accidents?

Why You Should Never Leave Your Car After a Highway Crash
We don’t always get second chances when driving. Do your best to do it safely.

This is a question I get from time to time. The reason i refer to crashes as “collisions” or “crashes” is because in auto safety circles, they’re typically not referred to as accidents, because even though we almost never mean for them to occur, they’re almost always preventable. An accident implies that whatever event occurred did so due to an act of God. In reality, whatever event occurred typically did so due to a combination of factors, including speeding, alcohol consumption, a lack of seat belt use, a lack of attention, fatigue, cell phone use, a lack of winter tires, road rage, etc.

A full 50% of auto fatalities occur by people who simply run off the road into trees, bridges, barricades, telephone poles, walls, and other barriers. It’s a semantic difference in many respects, but it does help shift the locus of control back toward the individual and society (e.g., driving techniques, vehicle safety, road design) rather than toward fate, which, by definition, cannot be altered. There’s nothing to learn from when we decide that bad things happen purely due to chance; we need to take ownership of our roles as individuals and societies in creating road traffic that respects human life.

Read more about best practices in driving techniques, vehicle safety, and road design here.

If you find my information on best practices in car and car seat safety helpful, you can do your shopping through this Amazon link. Canadians can  shop here for Canadian purchases. Have a question or want to discuss best practices? Join us in the forums!

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Your Big Car, Truck, or SUV Will Not Protect You in a Highway Crash

If you’re sharing the road with a vehicle like this, it doesn’t matter whether what you’re driving weighs 2,000 or 5,000 pounds. You need to avoid it, or you’re going to die.

One of the most common and harmful myths of auto safety in the US is that large vehicles are necessary for safe driving, and that they provide much more protection than smaller vehicles. I’ve addressed this myth before in articles such as My Prius is safer than your large SUVs and even larger pickup, How small cars make us all safer, and more recently, in A Cruze is as safe as a Suburban and A CR-V is as safe a as a Pilot. Today we’re going to revisit the myth by comparing death rates of some of the latest small cars on the road to those of some of the latest and largest cars, minivans, SUVs, and pickup trucks money can buy. All of the data comes from the most recent IIHS status report with driver death rate data, Volume 52, No. 3.

Small cars with very low driver death rates, or the safest used small cars money can buy

2011-2014 Chevrolet Volt – 7 driver deaths (0-39)

I recently wrote about how the Volt achieved the lowest fatality rate ever for a small car in the IIHS’ driver death rate surveys. The estimate of 7 suggests that if 1 million drivers put our staggeringly high annual mileage of 13,476 on 1 million ’11-’14 Volts, only 7 of those drivers would have died at the end of a full year. That’s as good as it gets for a small car right now; the only cars that have scored better in estimates are a precious few mid-sized and large models. Due to its batteries and internal combustion engine, it weighs a porky 3,781 lbs.

2011-2014 Nissan Leaf  – 8 driver deaths (0-44)

In a statistical dead heat with the Volt is the Nissan Leaf, which achieved a driver death rate of 8, the lowest yet estimated by the IIHS for an electric vehicle and the second lowest fatality estimate ever made for a small car. As noted in that article, due to the overlapping confidence intervals, it’s entirely possible it shares the same true driver death rate with the Volt; it’s even possible that true driver death rate might be zero. Pretty impressive for a car that costs under $10,000 in the used market and will never, ever need gasoline. With its battery pack, it weighs roughly 3,375 lbs.

2011-2014 Mini Cooper Countryman 2WD – 10 driver deaths (0-53)

The Mini Countryman is yet another station-wagon styled small car that matched or bettered a bevy of much heavier and larger vehicles with its driver death rate of 10. The larger sibling of the venerable Mini Cooper (which did not appear on the death rate survey due to low sales), it’s also the first vehicle on this list to feature a fully internal combustion engine. It weighs a svelte 3,208 lbs.

2012-2014 Subaru Impreza 4WD Wagon – 12 driver deaths (3-36)

While the Outback is undoubtedly the most famous Subaru and  by far their most popular wagon, the little Impreza actually equaled it in driver safety with an identical driver death rate of 12. Not bad for a vehicle that costs several thousands less than its flagship mark sibling. And with overlapping confidence intervals, it’s just as safe as not only the Outback, but the Legacy and Forester too. It weighs around 3,241 lbs.

2012-2014 Fiat 500 – 13 driver deaths (0-26)

The tiny Fiat 500 is the smallest car on this list, yet it kept its drivers as safe any of the vehicles already mentioned, and several huge monsters we’ll review in a minute. It weighs a scant 2,533 lbs.

Now that we’ve looked at 5 small and light cars with exceptionally low driver death rates, let’s compare them to 5 cars, SUVs, minivans, and pickup trucks that weigh much more, yet didn’t provide any more protection to their drivers–to hundreds of thousands of them who drove around the United States under the same conditions and on the same roads.

2011-2014 Ford Taurus 2WD – 40 driver deaths (23-60)

Our token large car, the Ford Taurus, was the most popular large car sold in the US during the surveyed years for the driver death rate study. However, although the Taurus weighs roughly 4,224 lbs, it didn’t provide any more protection than vehicles weighing hundreds to thousands of pounds less. Despite the higher driver death rate, we can’t say the Taurus was less safe than any of the aforementioned vehicles, as its confidence intervals overlapped with all of them. What that does allow us to state, though, is that it did not offer any advantage whatsoever, statistically speaking, over any of those vehicles when it came to keeping its drivers alive.

2011-2014 Chevrolet Suburban 1500 4WD – 39 driver deaths (11-67)

I recently profiled the Suburban in a comparison article with the Cruze, where I showed how, despite it being a much larger and heavier vehicle, it didn’t provide any additional driver protection as measured by driver survival rates compared to the Cruze. As a result, it was a perfect candidate for the token large SUV in this article. Despite weighing a hefty 6,551 lbs on the high end, it didn’t protect its drivers any better than vehicles weighing  up to 4,000 pounds less.

2011-2014 Ford F-250 Crew Cab 4WD – 35 driver deaths (22-27)

The 4WD Crew Cab trim of the F-250 will be our token large pickup truck, as it was the most popular sold in the US during the driver death rate survey years. The high sales rate is reflected in its narrow confidence interval. However, despite weighing a formidable 6,940 lbs on the high end, it was no safer than vehicles weighing up to 4,400 pounds less.

How can so many big cars be no safer than tiny ones for my family?

There are a few things to keep in mind to help explain these findings. First of all, it’s essential to remember that the three factors in auto safety involve how we drive and where we drive in addition to what we drive. No matter what you’re driving, it’s only one third of the equation. And there isn’t a vehicle on the road today that can stop you from accelerating into a bridge column while drunk, or switching lanes into the path of a semi-trailer after falling asleep. The roads you choose, the speeds you use, the times you drive, the miles you log, the tires you install (or don’t), the car seats you buckle your children into (hint: do what the Swedes do!)…it all adds up to far more than the vehicles themselves.

Compared to a semi-truck, we’re all driving small, tiny cars, SUVs, minivans, and pickups

Compared to this truck, every passenger vehicle on the road is a tiny car. How and where we drive make far more of a difference than what we drive.
Compared to this truck, every passenger vehicle on the road is a tiny car. How and where we drive make far more of a difference than what we drive.

Beyond all of this, it’s essential to remember that no matter what you drive, if it’s a standard passenger vehicle, it’s massively outweighed by the many large trucks and buses that populate our highways. A semi-trailer can weigh up to 80,000 pounds. A dump truck can weigh more than 60,000 pounds. The roads are filled with these vehicles. It doesn’t matter whether you’re hit by a vehicle that weighs 10x more than yours (e.g., a 70,000 pound truck crashing into a 7,000 Ford Super Duty) or a vehicle that weighs 20x more than yours (e.g., the same 70,000 pound truck crashing into a 3,300 lb Subaru); once the mass differential exceeds around 1.5x and your speeds exceed around 50 mph, you’re probably going to die. And if you increase the speeds to what most people consider highway speeds (e.g., 65-85 mph), you’re going to die in a head-on collision with pretty much anything larger than a motorcycle.

We can’t protect ourselves with size and mass. The solutions lie in changing how and where we drive. Choose safe speeds, follow best practices with car seats,  and choose safe roads, and you can achieve a better family survival rate than that you’d get from choosing any passenger vehicle on this list, or on any other list.

If you find my information on best practices in car and car seat safety helpful, you can do your shopping through this Amazon link. Canadians can  shop here for Canadian purchases. Have a question or want to discuss best practices? Join us in the forums!

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