Road Trip Readiness: Accidents Happen

by Lara Krupicka

The Smith family was halfway through their return trip from vacation, when the unthinkable happened: their car crashed. Freezing rain made the highway slick and brake lights in the distance warned them they were approaching the site of an accident. Ronn braked to slow down. Instead, his vehicle hit a patch of black ice that threw it into a slide. They hit the car in the lane beside them, spun 360 degrees across three lanes of traffic, and ended up on the side of the highway, facing forward.

We know even the most well-ordered vacation doesn’t always go as planned. But a vacation interrupted by a car crash presents its own set of challenges. With a bit of knowledge and preparedness, you can avoid some common mistakes and make the most of the situation should this occur during your vacation. Here are some tips from the experts on how to handle an accident while away from home:

Stay Calm

After an accident you may experience a bit of shock. In fact, you may feel emotionally overwhelmed. But the more you can calmly assess the situation, the more quickly the real problems can be resolved.

Call 911

According to Ken Howes, Executive Director of the American Association of State Troopers, you should call 911 immediately so law enforcement and emergency personnel can be dispatched. “The biggest mistake anyone can make is to leave the scene of an accident before law enforcement arrives,” says Howes. “You will most likely be criminally charged if you do this.” Also remember that police can divert traffic and get you away from the accident site.

If anyone has been injured, do not move them. Wait for emergency responders to arrive. Even if no one appears to be injured, it’s usually wise to be examined by a medical professional, to be certain. Emergency personnel or your health insurance provider can direct you to the nearest hospital. Howes notes that it’s important to include in your report to the investigating officer whether or not you are injured. Michele Smith agrees and warns from her experience it’s also valuable to record whether or not other parties were injured in the accident.

Contact Your Auto Insurance Company

Let them be your source for post-accident information. That’s what you pay for. You’ll have to file a claim. If another vehicle was involved you should also document your side of the story. Then you can ask the insurance agent for the name of the local auto repair shop they recommend and perhaps even information on where to stay. In some cases you will be given a rental vehicle to use while yours is being repaired.

Ask for Help

Don’t assume others will recognize your needs. If you need help finding a place to stay, ask. If you want a break from traveling, tell your spouse. Being in an unfamiliar place may require accepting assistance from strangers. But putting yourself out there to ask for aid can yield pleasant surprises.

Have Your Vehicle Inspected

If your vehicle is drivable and all occupants are fine, continue on your journey. But be sure when you arrive at your next destination to locate a reputable mechanic who can inspect your vehicle to determine whether there is serious damage beneath the exterior that could compromise your safety. Current auto bodies are built to sustain damage and bounce back. But any impact can compress the components underneath and cause collateral damage. Particularly if you will be logging a lot of miles post-accident, you will want to confirm that everything still operates correctly.

Reassure Your Children of Their Safety

Being in an accident is traumatic. Handling trauma can be more difficult when away from familiar surroundings, especially for kids. Your job is to let your children know you will do all you can to keep them safe. “Explain that sometimes bad things happen in life, like car accidents. And explain that as a family you are all strong together and will get through it,” says Dr. Frank Sileo, licensed psychologist.

Make Ongoing Communication a Priority

Take time to ask questions and listen to your kids’ reactions to what has happened. As Dr. Sileo points out, “Trying to act like it did not happen creates a taboo feeling around the topic and doesn’t allow kids to move on from the experience.” Be prepared to give lots of extra hugs and cuddles as kids process. It’s good for both of you.

Enjoy Your Vacation

An accident can threaten to mar the fun. If the vacation isn’t over yet, make sure you, as the parent, engage in the activities of your trip. Don’t let the cloud of your accident follow you. Focus on the positive. Find ways to appreciate what you do have and what are able to do, especially the unexpected positives.

Thankfully for the Smiths, the police were already nearby for the other accident and their car was drivable. After getting off the highway at the nearest exist and filling out an accident report, they completed the remaining three hours of their drive home. But what if they’d been at the beginning of their trip when the accident occurred? Michele Smith says they would still have made the journey. And they would have made the most of their vacation in spite of the accident.

If You Witness An Accident

• Call 911. Do not assume other witnesses or the victims can or will do this.

• Remain at the scene until law enforcement arrives. According to the American Association of State Troopers executive director, Ken Howes, “impartial witnesses are helpful in assisting investigators in determining the cause of a crash.”

• Provide your information to the investigating officer should they need to contact you for further details.

Lara Krupicka is a freelance writer and mom to three girls. She wishes she’d known better what to do when their family experienced an accident while on vacation.

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