Freezing temperatures, gusts of wind, patches of ice – winter can be a horrible time to be on the road, especially if you’re on vacation and aren’t used to driving in winter conditions. And, it’s an even worse time to get into a car accident.
But, with reduced visibility, slick roads and maybe even a reckless driver or two, accidents are bound to happen. So, what should you do if you experience one? Follow these five guidelines to help you stay safe while you wait for help to arrive after a car accident in winter:
- Respond calmly. Your first instinct following any car accident may be to jump out of the car and give the other driver(s) a piece of your mind. But, given traffic and road conditions, it may not be safe for you to get out of your vehicle at all (and, it’s never safe to act aggressively toward others). So, stay in your car, take a deep breath, turn on your hazard lights and check yourself and others for injuries. Keep in mind that, if you’re in shock, you may not notice your own injuries at first. If needed, call 911 to request medical and traffic assistance.
- Get off the road. If a minor accident leaves your car operable and no one involved requires emergency first aid, make clearing the roadway your next priority. Have all vehicles pull well off the road to reduce the chances of causing another accident. Just proceed with caution, especially if visibility is low. Other drivers on the road need extra time to react to slow-moving vehicles.
- If you can’t get off the road, stay in your car. Walking around the roadway is extremely dangerous if other cars are around, particularly with stormy weather and slick roads making it difficult for drivers to respond to unexpected hazards. So, stay in your car and fasten your seatbelt, in case another collision occurs. Wait there for assistance and instructions from emergency personnel. Or, if your car isn’t safe to be in, seek other protection.
- Stay visible, stay warm, stay put. Put up warning triangles and road flares, if you have them. Otherwise, tie a bright piece of cloth on your antenna or door handle so your vehicle is visible to others. If you’re running the engine to stay warm (make sure your tailpipe isn’t clogged with mud or snow or you risk being exposed to carbon monoxide), also turn on your running lights. Your vehicle emergency kit, stocked with blankets, extra clothing and more, will come in handy until emergency responders arrive. Staying put is typically safer than heading out to seek help – if you leave, you risk getting lost. Plus, leaving the scene of a serious accident can result in monetary fines.
- Collect pertinent details and report the accident. After any accident, it’s important to exchange insurance information with the other driver(s), jot down notes about what happened and even snap a few photos – just be sure not to put yourself in harm’s way in order to do so. Then contact your insurance carrier to file a claim and your roadside assistance service to request help.
What if you come across an accident involving others? As long as they aren’t in immediate danger, your best bet is likely to call 911 and let the appropriate local authorities respond. Pulling over to help could cause additional problems, such as distracting other drivers and causing an accident yourself.
Remember, winter driving can be as unpredictable as the weather. So, keep your phone charged and your gas tank full, and slow down so you have extra time to respond – you need it when the roads are slick!