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Secondary Crashes: What You Need To Know

A friend of mine and fellow CPST was involved in a major crash a month ago.  She was driving to the airport with two other adults in the car as well as her 9-year-old son when blizzard conditions caused a crash in front of them.  What happened next was unavoidable; they swerved to safety and in doing so were caught in the line of the car behind them doing the same thing.  When it was all said and done their vehicle was struck more than 5 times. Thanks to the quick thinking and level-headedness of my friend nobody in their car was seriously injured, but it very well could have happened if she weren’t prepared and didn’t know about secondary crashes.

A secondary crash is one that takes place after the initial impact.  In my friend’s case, every vehicle that struck hers during this massive pileup except for the first was a secondary impact. During the initial impact, a back window had shattered, sending glass everywhere; her son was screaming and snow was barrelling in through the broken window. It can feel nearly impossible to stay calm during an event like this but it’s crucial.

  1. Keep Your Seatbelts On
    Resist the urge to get out of the vehicle to assess the damage.  As long as nothing is on fire or your vehicle isn’t in danger of being submerged in water, stay in the car and keep your seatbelt buckled.  This is especially difficult to do if you have children in the car with you, but you are putting both yourself and them at further risk by taking them out of the safety of their car seats before first responders have arrived or the risk of a secondary crash has diminished.  Never stand on the side of a road while waiting for help, or you risk being struck by passing vehicles. You also risk exacerbating any existing injuries by moving your child.  If the crash was that serious, leave that job to the professionals – no matter how tempting it is to take them out and comfort them.
  2. Call For Help
    Before doing anything else, dial 9-1-1.  The sooner help arrives the better.  Even if you think someone else may have called, it doesn’t hurt to be sure.  The dispatchers will let you know if help is already on the way.
  3. Keep Warm
    Especially in these winter months, it’s important to keep yourself and your kids safe from the elements.  Kids aren’t supposed to wear coats in their car seats, but you should always bring them with you. I recommend keeping a couple of blankets in a bag on the floor of the vehicle as well; they’ll be easier to reach from the front seat and will help keep all passengers warm while waiting for help.  In the warmer months, roll any windows down that you can to help with air flow and if your vehicle still runs, turn up the air conditioning.

Having been in a crash where my small children were involved, I know how hard it is to keep calm and leave them be. But moving your child from the protection of their car seat is dangerous, even if it goes against our natural instincts.  Keep them safe, keep everyone buckled.


Author: Dana

Dana is the lucky mother to two incredible kids (aged 10 & 6) and the happy wife of Nate. She stumbled around in her adult life for a while before finally realizing that she could get paid to pursue her passion: keeping kids safe. In 2013 she started working at Modern Natural Baby in Ferndale where she eventually became a Child Passenger Safety Technician with additional Special Needs training. Dana also runs the child passenger safety-focused Facebook page Buckle Up Detroit and works with the amazing lady bosses at Metro Detroit Doula Services offering car seat classes, consultations, and more!