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AARP The Magazine

Survival Guide: 7 Ways to Save Your Own Life

Would you know what to do when faced with a crisis? Here are strategies that could help you come out smiling (or, at the very least, breathing)

how to save your life driving car deer road crash

If a large animal is in your path, you may want to hit the accelerator. — Brent Humphreys

6. You're driving and suddenly realize you're going to hit something or are about to be hit

The plan. Your action depends on how well you've developed certain road skills, says Jeff Payne, a former professional race-car driver and the CEO of the nonprofit driver-training firm Driver's Edge in Las Vegas. The big three targets you'll most likely meet on the road are other vehicles, debris (anything from tire shreds to a refrigerator falling off a truck) and wildlife. Call upon the following road rules and you'll either avoid these targets or minimize the damage.

Use your "driver ESP." Whenever you get behind the wheel, be aware of where cars are around you and what your immediate options are if something bad happens. For example: The car in front of you slams on the brakes. "If you know you have room on the right, you may be able to change lanes, or at least maneuver to minimize the impact," Payne says. The real point: If your brain is engaged in predicting what every driver around you will do, your brain is engaged, period. You'll never be a distracted driver.

Embrace smooth and cool. Our first instinct when something appears in front of us is to hit the brakes and swerve. Bad idea. "No matter the situation, drive as if you have a cup of water on the dashboard and don't want to spill a drop," says Payne. "Even if that's not true, having that mind-set will eliminate sudden moves that could cause you to overcorrect, lose control and make the situation worse."

Minimize the impact. If you can't avoid impact, alter it. For example, if you're the only one in the car, try to angle it so the front passenger side takes the hit. If you're in the car with a loved one, angle it so your side takes the hit.

Focus on the main event. It's not easy, but if an object appears in your lane, register it as danger, but don't fixate on it. "Your eyes act as your guide," says Payne. "If a crate falls off a truck in front of you and you stare at the crate, you'll hit the crate. Look for a safe route, and that's where the car will go."

Hit the gas (maybe). There is only one time when you'll want to accelerate before hitting something: When a large animal is in your path. Before you cry out in protest, think about it this way: If you slam on the brakes before hitting, say, a deer, the front end of your car will dip. This makes it more likely that the animal will fly up over your hood, come through your windshield and hit you right back. Speeding up before impact will make the front end rise and possibly confine Bambi to the bumper. "If you can, aim for its rear end," advises Payne. "If an animal bolts, it never bolts backward. You might just miss it."

7. Someone is pointing a gun at you

If it's a robbery, "give up the goods immediately," says Steve Kardian, director of NY Defend University and a former police detective. "Don't challenge them. Treat it like a business deal." Unless you believe you're about to be shot, Kardian doesn't advise going for the gun. Instead, "fake an illness, maybe like you're going to throw up or have a heart attack. Then bolt."

If you hear shots, beware denial. "Believe your eyes and ears," says Kardian. Those shots probably are from a gun, rather than a car that's backfiring. If you've only heard the noise but haven't seen the shooter, you still have time to run in the opposite direction. If you see the shooter and, worse, he or she sees you, put something large between the two of you — a car, a wall, anything that might stop a large-caliber bullet. The shooter may focus on more convenient targets. If you must run and you're in the line of fire, run away in a zigzag pattern. "Even if the shooter has had some formal firearm training, it's hard to draw a bead on an unpredictable target," says Kardian.

Be proactive. Problem-solve a worst-case scenario in your head. Say you know you'll have to walk to your car in the dark. What's your plan? Your escape route? "Visualizing like this opens a file in your brain, almost as if you've lived it," Kardian says. "You'll react much better during the real thing."

Mike Zimmerman tries not to get himself into any sticky situations. But just in case, his daily workouts involve lots of running in the opposite direction.

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