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John Ducker: Auto maintenance, safe driving your best defence against accidents

Season-appropriate tires, buckling up and an emergency kit are especially important in winter
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This time of year snow tires are important but also remembe to top up your windshield washing fluid. (Jenelle Schneider/Vancouver Sun)

We live in a driving culture. While evidence shows that car use is slowly trending down, cars will still be with us for a very long time. That means that car crashes will continue to be something that many drivers will experience in their driving life.

According to the World Health Organization, we kill around 1.3 million people worldwide on our roads every year. So as we enter the darkest months of the year in terms of sunlight it’s important to think about what to do in crash scenarios.

I’ve written many times now that the best way to survive a crash is to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Driving responsibly means following the rules of the road, keeping your speed down and signaling your intentions. It also means avoiding alcohol and drugs and putting the smartphone down.

It also means maintaining your vehicle. This time of year snow tires are important but it’s also important to make sure you have topped up your windshield washing fluid, that all your lights work and that you have some emergency equipment in your vehicle. This includes a flashlight, blanket and a phone charger.

Remove loose objects from the inside of your vehicle and store them securely in the rear or the trunk. When your car suddenly goes from 100 km/h to zero in half a second, that unsecured laptop or grocery bag full of canned dog food will still be traveling at 100 km/h until they hit something - often people.

Most importantly for prevention is to wear your seatbelt. Seat belts reduce the risk of death in a crash by 45% and the risk of serious injury by 50%. They work because they prevent you from being ejected from your vehicle as well as distributing impact force across your body which reduces trauma to vital organs.

Despite our best efforts crashes still happen and they happen in a flash. In many scenarios though, there is time to react. So here are some things you can do to minimize both impact and injury.

Just like they say on the airline safety briefings in a worst case scenario: Brace yourself. Take a firm grip on the steering wheel and look for escape opportunities. A firm grip helps maintain control of the vehicle.

Tense up and press your head into the seat back and tuck in your chin. This will help to reduce your head and neck and minimize whiplash.

Avoid over correcting. Many crash victims have avoided danger in the first moment but end up over correcting their car and slam into guard rails or power poles because they over-steered or over-braked, sending their vehicle out of control.

Brake firmly but steadily while always trying to maintain control.

There are rarely any good scenarios coming out of any of this, so your goal should be to hit the softest thing possible such as bushes as opposed to a power pole or a guard rail as opposed to another car coming head on.

Hitting objects is also better than hitting humans such as pedestrians. Swerving into parked cars or a fence is a better outcome than running over a person.

Finally, when a crash is unavoidable — protect your head. Head injuries can cause brain damage, comas or even death. Avoid positioning the head against windows or doorposts — they turn into clubs with the force of a crash.

Airbags are game changers in the crash department, but they’re not infallible. Air bags can cause injuries like burns, bruises or fractures if you are positioned too close to them.

To minimize risk your seat should be adjusted as far away from the steering as possible while still being in the right position to control your vehicle and maintain effective sightlines. Experts recommend 10 inches as a minimum. Remember also that hands should be positioned at 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock on the steering wheel. The old 10 and 2 positions expose your arms to the explosive force of an airbag.

After a crash, assess yourself for injuries and try to remain calm. Deliberate slow breathing often helps.

If you are conscious and able to move, check yourself for any injuries, then move to others and look for things such as bleeding and difficulties in breathing. Don’t move an unconscious person unless there is an immediate danger like fire — there may be spinal damage.

Car crashes are unpredictable and dangerous events which often cause serious injuries and death. It will be difficult, but the most important thing is to stay calm, act quickly, and seek help. By doing so, you can save your life, and the lives of others.

johntcdriving@gmail.com