Why don’t we talk more about car accident trauma?

This week, a former traffic reporter shared his experiences about his own “two terrifying car accidents.” In the first, he struck a pedestrian on the highway; in the second, he swerved to avoid a merging vehicle and struck an oncoming truck.

Neither collision was fatal, but the second crash left him with two broken legs, a fractured hip, a broken kneecap—and a lot of stress and guilt.

The Atlantic piece, titled We Should All Be More Afraid of Driving, is well-written and worth reading for many reasons, but mostly because it is rare and important for someone to speak openly and directly about causing a crash.

Acknowledging car accident trauma

No one sets out to crash their car or to hurt innocent people. Yet, about 40,000 people in the U.S. will die in motor vehicle-related crashes this year. Hundreds of thousands more will be hurt. Each one of these incidents affects a wide circle of family, friends, coworkers, and our communities in general.

We know that motor vehicle crashes are a huge economic burden. The social and emotional burden of the trauma is incalculable. As the article notes, “…researchers found that almost 40 percent of people involved in car accidents developed PTSD.”

Considering that most people will be involved in several car crashes in their lives, it seems odd that we don’t have support groups and public health outreach for the survivors.

For some reason—maybe because it is so common—we accept this widespread car accident trauma as simply a part of life.

Car accidents have become common enough that many people do not anticipate an accident as having a traumatic effect on the body or mind.  …

Unfortunately, the physical and mental aspects of car accidents are regularly underestimated, regardless of the severity of the accident itself or the damages sustained.

Is it PTSD? Car accident trauma, BetterHelp

When someone is as seriously injured as the writer describes, it takes over their life and the lives of those around them. Even with help and support, it can be a very isolating experience. Our clients often identify as both angry and lonely in the months and years after a crash.

Yet, it is one of the most common experiences in contemporary life.

Recommended Article: Is It Illegal to Use an Expired Car Seat

Learning how to do better

Driving a motor vehicle is both a serious responsibility, and by design or default, a necessity for many people. It is probably the most dangerous thing that you do on a regular basis.

We think we’re in control of what happens on the road. If we’re in control, then we must be responsible.

It is difficult for us to accept that our actions, however seemingly innocent, can have such outsized effects.

J. Gayle Beck, quoted in We Should All Be More Afraid of Driving

The thing is, we ARE responsible for the consequences of our actions. It is true that you are only in control of your own vehicle, and sometimes not fully.

But thinking that we have no control over what happens to us behind the wheel makes us a lot more dangerous. It allows drivers to abdicate any responsibility.

Even in discussing car accident trauma, we should be very cautious about using the word accident: the majority of car accidents are caused by drivers who are speeding, distracted, under the influence, driving dangerously—or by badly designed streets or vehicles. These causes are both predictable and preventable, not accidents of nature.

Rather than passively accepting the outrageous injury and death toll, our goal should be to eliminate as many of the opportunities for injury and death as we can.

We can talk about our driving experiences, and become better drivers.

We can encourage safer alternatives, safer vehicles, and improved infrastructure.

We can, and should, strive to make our roads much safer than they are today.

As a personal injury lawyer who has handled hundreds of car crash cases, I know how profoundly people are impacted by a serious wreck. The physical, mental, and financial costs are significant, with long-term effects. This is true not only for my clients but also for many of the drivers who cause a collision.

There is shame and guilt associated with causing another person to be injured or killed. There is further shame in being named in a lawsuit, which is an unfortunate necessity for too many car crash insurance claims.

If you cause a serious or fatal car crash, there are a few things you can do that may help you.

  • You cannot undo what has happened: acknowledge your own culpability and seek professional support. There are doctors and therapists trained in overcoming the trauma of motor vehicle crashes.
  • Be honest and straightforward with your own car insurance company. You paid all those insurance premiums so that they could provide financial support and compensation when someone has been hurt or killed.
  • Focus on things you can control, like wearing a seat belt, minimizing distraction, and practicing good and safe driving behaviors.
  • Support organizations that advocate for road safety. Some car accidents are truly accidental, but many are entirely preventable. Find a way to help prevent others from going through similar car accident trauma.

Attorney Kevin Coluccio, Seattle Washington 

Recommended Article: Fatal Injuries Sustained in a Car Accident

We Should All Be More Afraid of Driving:
Is it PTSD? Car accident trauma, BetterHelp:
Treating car accident trauma in therapy (PDF): PDF Overcoming the Trauma of Your Motor Vehicle Accident

Feranmi Ogundeko, Unsplash
Sharon McCutcheon, Unsplash

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