(Updated Feb 14, 2017
Originally published 12/28.2015)
Of course, you should always avoid a collision if you can.
At Comedy Guys Defensive Driving, we're in the business of teaching drivers to be safer. And we'd prefer it if no one ever had a crash while driving. But that's just not realistic. In Texas alone, drivers in 2015 reported a crash every 61 seconds.
In our defensive driving course, both in the classroom and online, we talk at length about how to drive defensively and avoid collisions.
But if collision avoidance isn’t possible, there are ways to minimize collision damage.
And one of simplest of these ways is to choose a path of least resistance.
This boils down to: If you’re going to hit something, aim for the thing that will do the least damage.
Minimize Collision Damage
by Making a Smart Choice
For example, imagine another driver cuts into your lane and forces your car off the road.
(And, depending on where you are, this may not require a lot of imagination.)
You are on the soft shoulder and racing toward two objects, a highway sign or a small shrubbery. The path of least resistance would be to hit the shrubbery because it would cause less damage than hitting the sign.
If you have a choice of hitting that on-coming car or crashing into a trash can, aim for the trash can. If you’re going to hit either a truck or a hedge, aim for the hedge.
But if you’re going to hit either a truck or a large old tree, aim for the truck, but the tree both weighs more and it’s roots keep it fixed in the ground. Hitting a truck won’t be good, but hitting a tree is probably worse.
If hitting another vehicle with your own is unavoidable, perhaps you can still minimize the damage by choosing how you hit.
Crashing into a car at an angle instead of head-on will do much less damage.
Or scraping the side of your car along a guardrail or concrete barrier before a crash will absorb much of your car's momentum and lessen the impact the crash does happen.
The Choice isn't always Clear
Annoyingly, the decision of what to hit isn’t always a clear one.
Reconsider the example we just gave. On the surface, a soft bush would seem to offer less resistance than a road sign. But newer road signs are designed to snap off if they’re hit, while bushes can have thick branches, extensive root systems, and surprisingly more mass than we expect.
There is no hard-and-fast rule about what to aim for. As with most driving emergencies, you’ll have to decide what to do in your particular situation.
Driving in general is safer if you are attentive, calm, and well-prepared. This is true when it comes to steering your way out of a crash, and it's true for choosing what to hit when hitting something is unavoidable.
The defensive driving techniques we stress in our classes — like maintaining a safe space around your vehicle and staying aware of what's going on around you — will help you to avoid crashes in the first place.
Be prepared to choose the least damaging target for an inevitable crash can be practiced with a little creative game of “What if…”. As you drive, ask yourself about various possible scenarios and how you would respond to them.
- “What if that car pulled out in front of me? What would I do?”
- “What if one of the kids playing in yard ran out in front of me?”
- “What if the car in front of me suddenly slammed on its brakes? How could I avoid hitting it?”
Considering possible situations like this will both make you a safer driver in general and prepare you to deal with any emergencies.
It's rather like practicing to change a tire in the dry safety of your driveway before you have to do it on the shoulder of a busy highway. Or checking the stopping distance of your brakes in a parking lot before you really need them on the street.
Preparation and practice under safe conditions will help you deal with the real thing later.
Be safe out there.
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