Driving Safety Tips: How To Protect Yourself In A Multicar Pileup

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In the aftermath of a current pileup on a Fort Worth, Texas, freeway that killed at the very least six folks, injured dozens, and concerned greater than 130 autos, you is perhaps questioning what—if something—you are able to do to guard your self from getting concerned in an analogous multi-vehicle crash, or what to do if you end up caught in a single.

Once a chain-reaction crash begins, it may be not possible to keep away from additional collisions, so it is vital to acknowledge the chance elements for a pileup to forestall it from occurring within the first place. Chain-reaction collisions are likely to happen when “the driving conditions have changed because the environment has changed,” says Robert Swint, CEO of ATA Associates, a crash investigation agency based mostly in Texas that has analyzed greater than 6,000 crashes over 50 years, together with many chain-reaction collisions.

Swint, who talked with Consumer Reports on his technique to examine the pileup outdoors Fort Worth, says that pileups are normally attributable to sudden, weather-related adjustments. “It’s sometimes by fog, sometimes by sandstorm, sometimes by rain, but the primary contributor is icy and snowy conditions,” he says.

In these conditions, drivers ought to attempt to preserve as a lot area round their automobile as potential, says William Van Tassel, supervisor of driver coaching packages for AAA. “It’s really hard to hit anything if you have enough space around you.”

Here are another methods to forestall a pileup—and what it’s best to do if one is unavoidable.

Slow down and do not tailgate. When visibility drops, it may be onerous for drivers to see obstacles forward. Cars additionally want extra distance to cease on ice and snow. So drivers must decelerate in unhealthy climate. “The slower you go, you have more time to react and more time for your vehicle to react,” Swint says.

It’s as simple as counting: Just look forward down the street, discover a mounted object like a phone pole or signal, and begin counting in seconds (“one Mississippi, two Mississippi”) as quickly because the rear bumper of the automotive forward of you passes by that object. In regular climate, it needs to be at the very least 3 seconds earlier than your entrance bumper passes the identical object. For each “strike” towards the circumstances—darkness, ice, fog, precipitation—Van Tassel recommends including one other second of distance. In actually harmful circumstances, an 8- to 10-second stopping distance could also be known as for.

Keep an eye fixed in your rearview mirror. You may not be tailgating the automotive in entrance of you, however what if one other automobile is driving your rear bumper? “Change lanes, adjust your speed, do whatever you have to do to let that problem driver around you,” Van Tassel says. Knowing whether or not there’s one other automobile tailgating you can too decide what motion it’s best to take when you see a crash forward, says Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing at CR. If you are being tailgated and are available up on stopped visitors, as an alternative of panic braking and doubtlessly inflicting a series response behind you, “it might be possible to slow down and change lanes or move onto the shoulder. That way if the car behind you can’t stop, you may avoid a pileup.”

Pay even nearer consideration. In harmful driving circumstances it is perhaps tempting to take a look at a navigation display to search out an alternate route or to name a liked one to allow them to know you are going to be late, however you could commit your absolute focus on driving, Fisher says. “Have awareness of where other cars are around you at all times,” he says. To keep away from a crash, you might need to make a split-second choice to alter lanes or hit the brakes. “Having your eyes on the road means more than just looking forward—it’s knowing: Is there a car next to me? Is there a car behind me?” That extra spatial consciousness might be the distinction between beginning a pileup and avoiding a crash by driving on the shoulder. And if potential, look past the automotive in entrance of you to view what’s occurring effectively up the street to higher react to an impending state of affairs.

Know who you are sharing the street with. Fisher, Swint, and Van Tassel all suggest retaining a buffer round your automotive. In addition to not tailgating, which means modulating your velocity so that you just aren’t driving instantly alongside different autos. “If the car next to you loses control, they’re hitting you,” Fisher says. That’s very true when sharing the street with massive vehicles and tractor-trailers. They’re usually concerned in pileups, and might “jackknife” (when the again of the trailer swings round towards the tractor, or vice versa), taking out a number of smaller autos of their path. If you are caught behind a slow-moving truck, do not attempt to cross it otherwise you may find yourself caught in its wake if a crash takes place.

Don’t make any sudden strikes. When the roadway is slippery, even small adjustments in velocity or route may cause a lack of management, so you need to drive slowly and easily. “Gradually change your speed, and you don’t try to abruptly change directions,” Swint says. If you end up touring too quick, let your foot off the fuel as an alternative of hitting the brakes. Applying the brake quickly can put a automotive right into a skid, the place you will additionally lose management over steering. “We like to say that speed is better controlled with the accelerator than the brake,” Van Tassel says. “Just the slightest lift of your foot can help.”

Watch the roads—actually. You know these yellow indicators that say “bridge freezes before road”? They’re there for a cause, Swint says. “When there’s open air under the roadway, the road freezes quickly,” he says, which might result in black ice—a slippery, icy floor that is not seen like different kinds of ice and slush. So lay off the accelerator once you strategy a bridge or an overpass.

Know your automotive’s limits. Don’t confuse your automobile’s skill to speed up with its skill to cease in an emergency. This is particularly true of four-wheel- or all-wheel-drive autos, which have a tendency to offer drivers a false sense of safety, says Gene Petersen, tire program supervisor at CR, who’s concerned with automobile dynamics evaluation. A two-wheel-drive automobile may often slip or slide on icy or snowy roads, letting drivers know simply how little traction their automobile has. A four-wheel-drive automobile is extra more likely to keep pointed ahead—however that may get drivers into bother. “You can’t stop any better, yet you may be traveling a lot faster,” Petersen says. “No matter how good your tires are or whether you have all-wheel drive or two-wheel drive, your vehicle has the same four points of rubber touching the ground.”

The similar goes for expertise, Van Tassel says. If your automobile’s traction management system prompts whilst you’re driving—indicated by an orange warning gentle that reveals S-shaped strains behind the define of a automobile—that is a transparent signal that it’s best to decelerate. “Just the fact that it’s activated is good feedback to drivers.” And though superior security programs like automated emergency braking can forestall a crash, the cameras and sensors that these programs depend on usually do not work in the event that they’re coated in snow, or if the street forward is obscured by fog.

Minimize the injury. Even if a crash is inevitable, you may nonetheless take management of the state of affairs. “There’s going to be a bad outcome—it’s just a matter of how bad it’s going to be,” Van Tassel says. On ice and snow, slamming on the brakes can put the automotive right into a skid and trigger you to lose steering and braking management. Use the brakes gingerly to decelerate and attempt to steer right into a comfortable object—like shrubs or a guardrail—as an alternative of one other automobile. And maintain an eye fixed out for individuals who could also be strolling across the scene of an earlier crash.

Stay in your automotive after a crash. It is perhaps a pure intuition to get out of a automotive after a crash, however it’s best to pause earlier than unbuckling or exiting. A two-car incident can rapidly contain three, 4, or extra autos. Your crashed automotive is probably going the most secure place to be. “We’ve had numbers of accidents where the people who are getting killed are the people getting out of the car and who start walking around,” Swint says. Even within the harried moments after a crash, drivers ought to take a deep breath and assess the state of affairs. “If other cars are approaching and smashing into things, stay in your car,” Van Tassel says. “Cars can offer a lot of protection to their occupants.” Keep your seatbelt on, flip in your hazard lights, and await the crashes to cease.

When you exit, transfer to the entrance of the crash. If your automotive or a close-by automobile catches fireplace, it could be essential to get out of a automobile. If that occurs, and it is apparent {that a} multivehicle crash continues to be going down, get away from different autos. Run ahead towards the crash after which previous it, Swint says—though he says that recommendation might sound counterintuitive. Don’t stand between two automobiles the place you is perhaps crushed if one other affect takes place. And no matter you do, do not stand on a shoulder or in entrance of a guardrail or concrete barrier, as a result of drivers might try and keep away from the pileup by driving on the shoulder, and fast-moving autos usually find yourself shunted alongside concrete boundaries. “If you’re on a bridge, go away from the flow of traffic,” Swint says, as a result of ongoing collisions can push pedestrians over the sting of a railing.

In the longer term, new technology may have the ability to forestall chain-reaction collisions. Vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication permits autos to “talk” with one another and obtain knowledge from visitors sensors on the roadway, so your automotive may know to begin braking if there is a crash forward even if you cannot see it via dense fog. In flip, how your automotive reacts may talk very important data that may be robotically shared with different motorists. Until this expertise is widespread, nonetheless, drivers might want to stay vigilant.


Consumer Reports is an impartial, nonprofit testing and advocacy group. Since 1936, we now have supplied unbiased, evidence-based data and advocated to guard the rights and security of customers. Sign up for a free CR newsletter to get knowledgeable insights delivered to your inbox. This story was initially printed by Consumer Reports on February 12, 2020.