Driving on interstate highways and other major roadways means the possibility of hitting a traffic jam. These can be sudden, giving you little time to react. As a result, it is not uncommon to see a chain reaction motor vehicle accidents. In a split second, you have to make a quick decision about whether to slam on the brakes or swerve out of the way.
Similar situations can also occur on smaller local roads, when a deer suddenly runs out directly in front of your car. So, what if swerving/braking to avoid this deer or the previous chain of accidents actually causes you to ultimately crash your vehicle?
How Do You React?
In situations like these, it is likely that you will have one of two reactions: brake or swerve. However, this decision is not always an easy one.
If you choose to brake, statistically, it takes 143 feet for your car to begin braking if you are traveling at 65 mph, which is the standard speed limit on a rural highway in Virginia. While this decreases to 121 feet for a car traveling at 55 mph (another standard speed limit on rural roadways), it shows that the vehicle's reaction time may already put you at a disadvantage - a risk that only increases as your brakes get older. While, in theory, an experienced motorist would leave more than enough room to accommodate these reaction times, that is not always the case, especially when a deer unexpectedly jumps in front of you.
On the other hand, choosing to swerve may put you and others at a greater risk. Since highways can include up to four lanes, swerving to avoid an accident could cause you to be hit by someone else or result in your hitting a pedestrian on local streets. In fact, about 1500 fatal accidents occur each year because of situations like these.
Next Steps after the Accident
Regardless of which way you react, there may be a few options to consider if you find yourself in an accident. First is that more often than not, a motorist who saw you serve or brake to avoid crashing will pull over. This means you have a witness who can make it easier for the insurance company to determine fault. If a multiple vehicle accident that winds up occurring, you will need to call your auto insurance carrier and discuss the situation with an attorney if anyone is injured.
On the other hand, some accidents may be caused by a "phantom driver" who may not know that an accident occurred because of them. These motorists cause accidents without ever hitting another vehicle, often due to their veering into another lane. Because of these circumstances, they might not pull over and can be unidentifiable. However, it is the law in Virginia for motorists to stop if they caused an accident involving injury, death, or property damage. If this is what happens in your case, an attorney may be able to help the court determine that this phantom driver is at fault.
If at all possible, the best option is obviously to avoid an accident before it happens.
Properly Avoiding an Accident
Motor vehicle accidents are sometimes unavoidable, particularly if someone crashes into you. However, knowing how to avoid accidents before they happen will make you an all-around safer driver. Here are our top five tips:
- Make sure there is enough distance between you and the car in front of you. Not only will this provide adequate room for your vehicle to brake if need be, but if that car gets a blowout, swerves, or spins, it may make the difference between getting in an accident or not.
- Know your vehicle. You should always know your vehicle's state in terms of tire treads, brakes, and whether it's had routine maintenance. Knowingly driving an unsafe car may make you liable if an accident occurs.
- Be aware of your surroundings. This means check your blind spots, know the area you're driving in, and be cautious of critters or objects that may easily be in the roadway.
- Avoid distractions. Virginia is a "hands-free" state meaning that you legally cannot be holding your phone or other electronic devices at any time while the vehicle is in motion. It's also safer to avoid eating, drinking, or changing the radio while driving.
- Be cautious when merging or changing lanes. It's not very often that a driver will slow down to let you switch into their lane. Make sure you are going with the flow and speed of traffic, and always signal before merging, or making a lane change at any time.
Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage
Another option to consider before these situations occur is to have uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage as part of your plan. This can protect you from injuries caused to you or passengers by a phantom driver or other circumstance. This type of insurance is actually required in Virginia and about one-third of states.
Motor Vehicle Accident? We Can Help.
Weiner, Spivey & Miller, PLC has decades of experience protecting those who are injured in motor vehicle accidents. If you or a loved one have been affected by an accident caused by another's negligence, call (703) 215-9982 to schedule a free consultation.