Ask the Best and Brightest: What Do You Do If You Cannot Avoid an Accident?

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber
ask the best and brightest what do you do if you cannot avoid an accident

I’m pretty good at taking tests. The problem is, with some tests that you take, success is not attained by giving the logically correct answer but rather by regurgitating the answer the test giver wants. I forget that sometimes. When the Michigan Secretary of State’s office told me that I needed to take a written test to continue to have the privilege of driving, on one question I forgot the proper test taking strategy was to determine what some bureaucrat in Lansing wanted me to think. Instead I just read the question, parsed its logic, and gave the same answer that I’ve given my now-adult children concerning the same driving situation. Wait. That’s a fib. I didn’t just read the question, parse etc. The question and possible answers intrigued me enough that I jotted them down on an envelope I had with me. They were unclear enough that I wanted to run them by the other TTAC writers and the Best and Brightest to get your opinions. Here’s the question:

Q. If you cannot stop before hitting another vehicle it’s usually best to:

A. Gradually slow down and hit the other vehicle.

B. Try to steer around the vehicle and avoid braking hard.

C. Release the accelerator and apply the brakes as hard as you can.

According to the bureaucrats in Lansing, the correct answer is B, try to steer around the vehicle and avoid braking hard. However, the question is about an unavoidable collision, you can’t really steer around a vehicle that you are indeed going to hit, can you? Now if I think about it, I can understand why trying to steer around a collision might mitigate that collision by avoiding head-on impact but that really doesn’t answer the actual question that was asked. I’ve been taught that, yes, under almost all circumstances you do want to maintain control and never, ever, lock up the brakes (well, with modern ABS that’s hard to do, so let’s say “stand on the brakes”), except for when you’re certain that you are going to hit another car or some other large object. When you absolutely can’t avoid a collision, I’ve been taught that you should do what you can to scrub off as much speed as possible before impact and that the best way to do that is to apply the brakes as hard as you can. That would make C the correct answer. Yes, you may lose control as the brakes lock up and the tires start to skid, but that’s the maximum coefficient of friction that you can create at that moment. It may not be a very controlled stop, but skidding to a stop can slow you down in a hurry. If you ice skate, think hockey stops. Locking them up is what you can do that will retard your speed quickest, it’s also just about the only thing you can do, or that’s what I’ve been taught. So what do you say the appropriate response is in the event of an unavoidable collision, try to continue to steer around the collision and avoid hard braking, or stand on the brakes and reduce impact speed as much as possible?

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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5 of 91 comments
  • Deliverator Deliverator on Mar 28, 2012

    To me the two scariest situations is driving are these: 1. In city driving, say in a four-lane road, low-speed, two lanes in each direction. With intersections every block, either with lights or not. You're in the right hand land and a line of cars is stopped in the left hand lane. Are they stopped for a pedestrian crossing or because someone is turning? Double jeopardy - someone not looking properly decides to dart into your lane because he doesn't want to wait behind the turner. Basically you have no choice but to slow down. 2. On the highway/freeway, if you are changing lanes, either to the left or right, at normal speed, and someone in the lane next to the lane you are changing into decides he wants to be in the same spot. Since I have my mirrors set correctly and do a shoulder check to the immediate left or right of me before changing lanes, in the very short time interval between checking and moving into that lane, the other person decides to do the same. Only if one or both of you notice this is happening will the situation work out. What do you guys think?

    • See 1 previous
    • Occam Occam on Mar 28, 2012

      1. Yeah. This especially gives me the willies on a motorcycle, compounded by the predilection of Texans to suddenly shift lanes without signals or head checks, and it seems most common among drivers of the largest vehicles (Suburbans and crew-cab pickups), who either can't see or just don't care. Drive friendly... right. 2. Texas gives priority to the car coming into the lane from the left. I'm not sure about other states. It certainly raises the point that a shoulder check/mirror check should involve the next two lanes, not just the adjacent one. The one that gives me the willies is having someone slow WAY down, or just never speed up, when entering a freeway, either waiting for someone to wave them in, or worse, just entering the lane without checking on the assumption that drivers will move to the passing lane to accomodate them. The latter is not unusual on empty rural interstate highways, but in an urban/suburban setting, you better get up to speed and look for a hole!

  • SimonAlberta SimonAlberta on Mar 29, 2012

    OK, I am coming a bit late to this party but, for what is worth, here is my input; Sheldon Cooper in Big Bang Theory would have a field day with this one. The question is: "If you cannot stop before hitting another vehicle it’s usually best to:" MY question is: Usually best for WHOM or WHAT? Best for my own selfish preservation needs? Best for minimizing general carnage? Best for avoiding death or injury of other parties? Best for minimizing legal liabilities? etc. etc. etc. In short, the question is so utterly vague and every crash scenario so different (road conditions, speed, other traffic and a hundred other variables) that to get the "correct" answer you have to guess what the examiner WANTS you to answer. In no way does the knowledge of the "correct" answer to this question further the general safety of new road users.

    • Rpn453 Rpn453 on Mar 29, 2012

      Sorry, you fail. The correct answer is "B". Always. Now quit thinking so much. It'll only get you in trouble.

  • Pig_Iron ASTC 3.0 AM radio was successfully demonstrated at CES. It is a common standard shared with terrestrial television, so the audio equipment is commonized for broadcasters. And no royalty fees to pay, unlike HDRadio which has been a less than stellar success. 📻
  • Art Vandelay Crimes that are punished with fines encourage abuse by those enforcing them. If it is truly dangerous to the public, maybe jail or give the offenders community service. People’s time tends to be very valuable to them and a weeks lost work would certainly make a high earner think twice. If it isn’t a big danger why are police enforcing it (outside of raising money of course). Combine it with a points system. When your points are gone you do a week imitating Cool Hand Luke.
  • Cha65697928 High earners should pay less for tickets because they provide the tax revenue that funds the police. 2-3 free speeding tix per year should be fair.
  • Art Vandelay So the likely way to determine one’s income would be via the tax return. You guys are going to be real disappointed when some of the richest folks pay no speeding fine the same way they minimize their taxes
  • Teddyc73 A resounding NO. This has "Democrat" "Socialism" "liberalism" "Progressivism" and "Communism" written all over it.