Driving: How to Control Car in a Panic Stop and Avoid a Collision

Latest update: April 16, 2023. Page URL indicates original publication date; meanwhile, times change and the updates continue.

Here is how to avoid rear-ending the car in front of you when the emergency panic stop is "too late". A true story.

Preventing Panic Stop Collisions - It Can Be Done

The '82 Camaro That Lived to Tell the Tale
This happened around three decades ago. Not something one soon forgets.
The method still works.

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 2-3 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 something I had heard or read a long time ago.

With the brakes still locked, I semi-rapidly turn the steering 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. Needless to say, don't yank the steering wheel, you don't want to possibly flip the car or slide sideways.

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 Rule #1 If something that is not in front of you is too hard to see, don't even try. You never know what suddenly might be happening in front of you. Needless to say, this rule is obvious and known to everyone and only included as a reminder.

Car Driving Tip #1 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. It is having this experience happen that caused me to write this article. It is hoped this knowledge will serve you well. An update: don't jerk the steering wheel, just turn it at the normal rate. Turning the steering wheel at a harder and faster rate produces a different result; usually your car will end up broadside to whatever is in front of you. This would not have worked in the above described incident; too little time, and not enough front, side, or width room.

Innate Response and Never Give Up

While writing the first story another story came to mind. This one happened between three and four 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, stalls.

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

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

It was an innate response. At 60 mph and at that distance, one just knows 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 Driving Tip #2 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 around them. One has to make the deliberate, conscious decision to "stay in the game". It's not over 'til it's over.

Take care.

And a separate, unrelated note. As you know, your computer and cellphone knows everything about you. Privacy has basically gone out the window. The same applies to your car. Modern cars collect all sorts of information about you. That information is not only stored, but is often shared with others. Here is an article from Mashable, it is not pretty: Your car knows too much about you. That could be a privacy nightmare.

Controlling Emergency Panic Stops and Avoiding Collisions

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  1. I had a similar thing happen, but it did not end so well. I was driving when it had been raining. I approached a signal, and it turned yellow. I thought I was too far back to keep going, so I prepared to stop. The rear end started to break away; I countered, and was doing fine...until I hit those damned painted arrows in the lane, telling you which way you may or may not turn.
    At that point, it was all over, and I was just along for the ride. The car did a 180, then went sideways, slamming into the pole for the signal. Pretty much totaled the driver's side of the car. I was not hurt, but I was plenty pissed; not to mention a bit shook up. I was in my mid-40s, and I'd never been in an accident!

    I think the exception to these rules is in NASCAR: if there is a wreck, and no way out if it, at those speeds, you'll watch the in-car camera feed show the drivers let go of the wheel and pull both arms up against their chest to avoid breaking their arms!

    You know, the driver's test says if another driver has to use "unusual skill" to avoid a wreck while you're taking the driving test, you automatically fail. I've often wondered--if some dolt on the road causes ME to exercise "unusual skill" to avoid a wreck...do I automatically pass??? ;-)
    Ah, well; here's to many years of accident-free driving!

  2. Thanks for the safety tips and safety rules mate. Will definitely try to follow them.


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