I recently had a major accident where I rolled my car about 5 times. The car was a mess and was written off, but by some miracle (it had to be a miracle) I climbed out of the upside down wreck relatively fine. The whiplash was one thing, but trust me, the admin that I had to deal with afterwards was quite another. It surprised me that directly after the accident, I had no idea what to do. I relied 100% on the kindness of absolute strangers who stopped on the side of the road to help me, to get medical attention and attend to immediate concerns.

To see pictures of the car after the crash see this post Changing jobs? Why I did it, and why you should do it too.

So in good, ol’ EngineerChic fashion, I am now going to share some essential advice in the unfortunate circumstance that you end up in a similar situation.


Immediately after a crash

The first thing you want to do if you’re in a badly crumpled car is to check that you are indeed okay. You may have suffered a neck injury or something else may be broken that you wont even notice because of the adrenaline in your system at that point. Only hours after the accident I noticed that my knee and neck were in some serious pain!  If you suspect that you or anyone else in the vehicle has a neck injury, don’t allow anyone but a paramedic to move them, unless of course the car is on fire or something.

If you are hanging from a seat-belt upside down (like I was), be very careful when you un-clip yourself as you may land on your head and injure your neck further. The procedure is as follows:

  • Put one hand on the ceiling (which is now on the floor and push up to take the weight of the belt.
  • Turn your head to one side and with your other hand, release your seat-belt clip. (this is literally what I had to do)
  • Try to open the door. Luckily mine opened a bit and I just had to kick it a few times to get it opened enough to escape
  • If the door wont open, try breaking the window with a heavy object. Remember that other doors may have less damage than the one that is nearest to you
  • Check and see if there is anyone else you can assist

If the vehicle is still on, TURN IT OFF and remove the keys from the ignition! The car may ignite leaked fuel or something.  This may just be an old wive’s tale, but no hurt in doing it anyway. 

So you’re out. Now what?

Okay, so you’ve escaped the smoking wreck. The thing not to do is jump back in to retrieve any valuables at this stage. In the case of my wreck, the car was still smoking and the petrol tank had spilled. Make sure the vehicle is safe before going anywhere near it. You may want to consider keeping a fire extinguisher in your vehicle – which can also be used to smash windows.

This may seem like complete crazy-talk, but trust me, you never know when something like this will happen to you!

So what you want to do (especially if you’re alone like I was) is to wave someone down. It’s very likely that people will stop. In my case, many people stopped to help. It’s absolutely amazing the kindness and compassion that absolute strangers showed me during that time. I think they were mostly shocked to see that I had survived.  You may need to seek medical attention.  If you do, then ask someone to call an ambulance or give you a lift to a hospital. This is the only good reason to leave the scene of the accident. If you are not injured, you must stay and call the police.

Reporting the accident

You need to call the local police authorities who will meet you at the scene and take down your details. In minor fender-benders with no injuries, you may want to move the vehicles out of the line of traffic after taking pictures of the vehicles positions. If someone has been seriously injured or killed, you may not under any circumstances move the vehicles involved as this would be considered tampering with evidence.

The policeman who helped me allowed me to fill out an accident report on the scene (for insurance) and I received the Accident Number in a few minutes on my cellphone.

Claiming from Insurance

The accident really brought home how important being with a good insurance company is.  I called in to their call center to report the accident. The guy on the phone could not believe how calm I was as I explained the accident and the condition of the vehicle. I was incredibly lucky! They took their time in assessing the vehicle and approving the pay-out, but they eventually did. In the mean time, I had a courtesy car to drive around in.  Luckily I had already broken even on my car repayments so I actually got a decent deposit to put towards my next vehicle.

Dealing with PTSD

Like the hero I believe myself to be, I tried going in to work the following day. By then, the adrenaline had set in and severe stiffness and pain had set in.  My project manager took one look at me in a neck-brace, starting to tear up from the pain and self-pity and sent me home to rest for a week. Do not underestimate the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. You will not believe the thoughts and questions that go through your mind after an experience such as this. Even if the accident/ incident was not as severe, you may have some serious fears to deal with! I went to stay with my aunt and grandmother for those few days and made sure I dealt with my accident properly.

Injury Recovery

As I am an avid runner, I had to take a 6-week break from strenuous physical exercise whilst attending physiotherapy twice a week for my neck spasm. Fortunately my injuries were not worse. In the end, my down-time had to be extended to 8 weeks and I started Pilates after about 4, but I am thankful that I took the time to recover properly.

In closing

Well, I sincerely hope you will never have to live through something like this, but if you do, I hop this post will help you.

I’d like to say thank you to a few people:

  • Those kind and caring strangers who went out their way to help me at the worst time of my life
  • BIG UPS to the South African Police Service and the Roosenakal Police Station for their help!
  • Thank you to the colleagues and friends who made sure I was safe and helped me in the day following the accident
  • Being surrounded by family and the outpouring of love and support from friends and family over that week was so helpful in pulling me through and I thank them all for it!
  • Thank you to my sister and mum who flew up from Cape Town and Durban to see me that week. I love you both very much!
  • Thank you to my amazing physio/ Pilates instructor/ friend who was so very supportive during this process.
  • And most of all, thank you to the higher power – what ever you choose to define it as – for keeping me safe and allowing me to emerge from such an experience. Whether it was to teach me something, or point me in a certain direction, I believe that there was a reason I survived.