How to Avoid Rear-ending the Car in Front of You When the Panic Stop Is Too Late

A true story. Happened around a decade ago.

Preventing Collisions When It Is Too Late


The 82 Camaro That Lived to Tell the Tale

Am doing the speed limit in downtown traffic. Needed to get gas. I squint at the Food Mart gas prices sign across the street on the left. Why do they make the numbers so small? All the other places have normal-sized numbers. I squint and squint…

Suddenly an ambulance siren goes off. I jerk my eyes to the front. All the traffic had stopped dead in front of me because an ambulance coming from the opposite direction had been using its red lights without the siren. And when I say stopped dead in front of me, I mean up close and personal; it was all over.

I slam on the brakes. Way too late. Less than four seconds to impact... My car and the poor guy's car in front of me are about to get totaled. Time really does slow to a standstill…

And then I remembered an article I had read a long time ago.

I turn the wheel to the right towards the curb. The car actually goes where I tell it to go. That's right, whether ABS or solidly locked wheels; where you tell the car to go, the car will go.

My car is no longer aimed at the reprieved guy in front of me. I finally come to a stop beside the other guy's car and short of the curb. Had to backup to get back into the lane. A very lucky happy ending.

Car Traffic Safety Tip #1 If something that is not in front of you is too hard to see, don't even try.

Car Traffic Safety Tip #2 Even when the wheels are locked, your car will still go where you tell it to go,  All you need is the presence of mind to turn that steering wheel.

Innate Response and Never Just Give Up

While writing the first, another story came to mind; this one happened a little over three decades ago.

A road very similar to this one, but still slick from the rain; good thing that tanker truck wasn't around.

Booming down the hill on a country highway. Doing 60. Am even at legal speed.The rain had finally stopped.

Someone waiting in a white pickup truck suddenly floors it from a cross-street on the right; loses control, spins around, and stalls.

There he sits. Right in front of me. 60 mph, two seconds to impact...

Hard right. Hard left. Coasted for the next half mile, recovering from the near miss.

It was an innate response. At 60 mph and at that distance, you just know when there is not even time to hit the brakes. Cars are designed not to flip. So at least try to steer your way out of it. After all, you have nothing to lose.

Car Traffic Safety Tip #3 It's not over 'til it's over. Keep trying until it is.

Some Final Thoughts

In both of the above situations, given the speeds and distances involved; my automatic, first response was exactly what most people would have done. We seem to be genetically programmed to automatically respond with the correct, initial reaction in such situations. Unfortunately, life being what it is, that first initial reaction is not enough.

In both situations, a second action was required to save the day. Unfortunately, that action is not genetically programmed into us. It is something which has to be learned, which you have indeed now done.

In the first incident, most people would have rammed into the car; not knowing that simply turning the steering wheel could have saved the situation.

In the second incident, after making that first hard right turn, most people would have then run off the road; hitting whatever was around to be hit, or even worse, going off some version of a cliff or deep ravine. In fact, this seems to be a case where our genetic programming actually works against us. After the first reaction, most people then tend to freeze, i.e., mentally withdrawing from what is happening. One has to make the deliberate, conscious decision to "stay in the game". It's not over 'til it's over.

Take care.