If you live in an area with harsh winter weather, you already know your risk of a car accident is higher than usual—no matter how experienced or safe you are as a driver. More than 70 percent of roads in the United States are in regions that experience snowfall, and more than 1,300 people are killed each year in vehicle crashes on snowy or icy pavement. You can reduce your chances of a car accident by avoiding the worst weather conditions altogether, practicing turning into skids, and investing in snow tires.
But no matter how much you try to reduce your chances of an accident, there’s a chance one could happen to you. And if it does, you’ll need to follow some basic tips to stay safe after that accident has occurred.
In the first few minutes following an accident, it’s important to take the following measures:
- Remain calm. Panicking isn’t going to get you anywhere. You’ll be able to make smarter decisions and improve your position much easier if you learn to remain calm. In the wake of a traumatic car accident, that can be hard to do, but practicing deep breathing and staying focused on the present can prevent your emotions from taking over.
- Get off the road, but stay visible. If your car remains on the road, it could cause further accidents, especially if visibility is low due to snow or fog. Accordingly, it’s in your and everyone else’s best interests to get off the road as quickly and safely as possible. From there, your next goal should be to make yourself visible; this is in part to improve the safety of the road and in part to ensure your car is easy to discover if and when help arrives. You can do this by turning your hazard lights on, or by putting up reflectors and road flares (if you have them).
- Check for injuries. As soon as you can, start checking for injuries. Take a self-assessment and determine whether you’ve sustained any serious injuries in the accident, then check your passengers to see if they’ve sustained any injuries. If anybody has, it’s important to get them to safety and call an ambulance as soon as possible. However, you need to be cautious; it’s not always advisable to move an injured person.
- Stay warm. Your next priority should be staying warm as you wait for help to arrive. This is especially important during extremely low temperature conditions and if you’re on the side of an infrequently traveled road. Wear extra layers if you have them, and try to run the car for approximately 10 minutes every hour to keep it warm while preserving your gas levels. However, before you start running your car, it’s important to check your tailpipe for any clogs.
What to Do Next
After you’ve taken the necessary immediate actions, you can start working on the following:
- Rely on supplies in your car. Before driving in wintry conditions, make sure you have an emergency supply kit in the trunk of your car. This should include things like road flares, reflectors, jumper cables, and kitty litter (or something similar) to gain traction if you get stuck in ice. It should also have some food and water, in case you’re stuck for an extended period of time. While you’re at it, make sure you’re driving with your gas tank at least half full, so you have plenty of fuel to stay warm if you’re involved in an accident.
- File a police report. No matter what the conditions were, it’s important to file a police report about the accident. This will serve as an official record of documentation if and when you start dealing with insurance claims.
- Contact an attorney. If the accident was the fault of the other driver, it may be in your best interest to contact a personal injury attorney. They may be able to get you compensation above and beyond what your insurance might pay, and might be able to bring the other driver to justice.
- Psychologically recover. Being involved in a car accident can be psychologically devastating. Make sure you take the time to mentally and emotionally recover, gradually reintroducing yourself to driving in similar conditions, relying on friends and family for support, and getting therapy if you need it.
Being proactive and staying mindful of your safety in a winter car crash can help you stay alive and healthy while you wait for someone to arrive at the scene. Stay safe, avoid bad roads, and get some experience driving in icy conditions before you need to, and you should dramatically reduce your chances of being involved in an accident in the first place.