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Car accidents happen more often than we would like. Studies have shown that 77% of drivers have experienced an accident at least once in their lifetime. Many of those accidents have led to injuries, which made us wonder: Is it better to brace for impact in the event of an accident or stay relaxed to prevent injuries? Let’s examine this question.

Two cars in a head-on collision
Two cars in a head-on collision. | Getty Images

Should you brace yourself or relax in a car accident?

Believe it or not, if you know you’re about to get into a car accident, your best course of action is to brace for the impact. We have all heard that relaxing your body is a good idea since you’re less likely to hurt your tensed-up muscles when the impact occurs, but that’s not completely true.

According to a 2008 study by the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine, bracing for a car accident resulted in a higher percentage of injuries to the legs. But since bracing for impact limits the movement of the upper extremities – like the chest area – tensing up can lead to less injury to the upper body. That means that although bracing for the impact means you may suffer more damage to your appendages and joints (in your arms and legs), it can prevent damage to more vital parts of your body – including sustaining whiplash.

Case in point, bracing for impact in a car accident (when possible) is the best way to avoid severe injuries – especially in rear crash scenarios. Does that sound counterintuitive? Maybe. But The Healthy Journal notes that remaining relaxed could subject your joints, nerves, ligaments, and discs to more injury.

What should you do in the event of a car accident?

A car crashes into a wall
A car crashes into a wall. | Getty Images

If you’re not supposed to relax in the event of a car crash, then what should you do? The Phipps Spine Institute recommends the following steps:

  • Brace your head against the headrest: Brace your head against the headrest to reduce the distance between them. Doing so will lessen the chance of whiplash.
  • Always look forward: Never turn your head in the event of an accident, as it could cause more injury.
  • Push your foot against the brake pedal and push your back into the seat
  • Tense up: Again, it sounds counterintuitive, but considering you’re about to get hit with a 3,000-pound punch, you should brace for the hit.

Additionally, it’s recommended to keep your hands on the side of the steering wheel, and your elbows and knees bent. If anything, do not brace your arms against the steering wheel, dashboard, or other hard surfaces in anticipation of the collision. Doing so can cause more injury to your ligaments.

Furthermore, this is also why you should never put your feet on the dashboard as a passenger. In the event of an accident, the airbag can deploy a cause your legs to become severely injured or even disfigured. As always, wear your seatbelt. Many of those fatalities listed above likely could have been prevented with the proper safety measures.