Survive a Multi Car Pileup

A multi-car pileup is a road traffic collision involving many vehicles. They rarely occur, but when they do, they can be very serious. Read on for safety advice about avoiding these situations and steps you can take if you are involved in one.


Limiting Your Chances of Being in a Multi-Car Pileup

  1. Pick travel conditions wisely. Bad weather, traffic, and road conditions impact the likelihood of a pileup.
    • Avoid driving on slippery wet, icy or snowy roads.
    • Try to avoid travel on highways or motorways at peak seasonal travel times.
    • Don't drive in white-out blizzard conditions, when it is foggy, when it's raining very heavily, or when there are very high winds.
    • Avoid driving in areas that regularly experience bush fires, mudslides or any other natural disasters.
  2. Drive safely. Leave room in front of you for cars and allow faster drivers to overtake you. Stick to the speed limit but drive to the conditions; it's not always safe to drive at the speed limit. Use your headlights, keep your car in good condition, and obey road signs.
  3. Wear your seat belt whenever you are driving. You are legally required to do this in many countries, but you should do this even if not legally required to do so.
    • Ensure that everyone else in the vehicle is wearing their seat belt. Even if you are wearing your seat belt, someone else who is not wearing their seat belt could be thrown into you in a collision and cause death or serious injury.
  4. Do not lean against the dashboard. In a collision, the airbags will inflate. When airbags inflate, they shoot out so fast that anyone leaning against the dashboard could be thrown backwards and seriously injured or killed.
  5. Ensure that the airbags are turned on, however, unless there is a rear-facing child seat fitted in the front passenger seat you should keep them on. (The front seat position for child seats is illegal in many places.) Regardless of legality, rear-facing child seats should always be fitted in the rear of the car if possible.
  6. Do not lean against the sides of the car if there are side/curtain airbags. This is dangerous for the same reasons it is dangerous to lean against the dashboard.
  7. Avoid placing heavy objects on the rear seats or parcel shelf. These are extremely dangerous if sent flying in a collision. If you have heavy objects, place them in the trunk or tie them down securely so that they cannot move if impacted.

Avoiding a Pileup Accident

  1. Move to the side of the road or off the road to avoid a collision. Avoid drop-offs or oncoming traffic.
  2. Be aware of your surroundings. Always be aware of everything happening around you. It is easy to not be aware of an accident. Always keep your head facing forward, and angle your mirrors to the back of the vehicle, that way you can easily be aware of everything happening.

Being Safe During a Pileup Accident

  1. Keep your seat belt on at first. There may be further collisions. Always make sure to keep your belt on when in the car. Also, make sure that all passengers have their belts on.
  2. Turn on your emergency lights. This will increase your visibility and give the care behind you a chance to slow down or avoid you.
  3. Watch for cars approaching you from behind. If possible move your vehicle forward or to a safer location.
    • If your vehicle is sideways, consider unbuckling and moving towards the safest side of the vehicle if you have the opportunity. Attempt to lay down flares or other lighting devices to signal an emergency once outside.
  4. Evaluate your situation and make a plan. Look for fires or any tanker trucks close to you. See if you are injured.
    • Keep the car running as the airbags will not deploy if the car is turned off.
  5. Do not smoke, and also do not allow anyone else to smoke. The pileup may have involved a vehicle which is carrying dangerous goods. You may not be able to tell this just by looking at vehicles, so assume that it is unsafe to light up.
  6. Exit the vehicle with caution once you are certain it is unlikely that there will be further collisions. Switch off your engine first.
  7. If possible, warn other road users. If it is safe to do this, find ways to warn others; for example, using a warning triangle. This will reduce the likelihood of further collisions. Use other lighting devices to alert them.
  8. Call emergency services right away.


  • Do not use a warning triangle on a motorway.
  • If someone survives a car crash without breaking their spine, it is highly unlikely that you will break their spine by moving them. The forces needed to break the spine are extreme and if they are not already paralyzed during a crash moving them is unlikely to cause paralysis after the crash. The priority is to get the patient bandaged up, to a safe location and to the hospital as quick as possible. A lot of emergency departments are phasing out spinal immobilization and the use of backboards for this reason.
  • If someone has a broken leg they should not try to walk on it.
  • If someone is bleeding, apply a bandage, such as a shirt if available, and direct pressure.
  • Consider using a tourniquet.
  • Do not take any unnecessary risks. Watch for cars and stay in a well-lit area. Dress appropriately for the weather. Watch for ice. Have a sleeping bag and food water and survival equipment in your vehicle.
  • Tell people to move to a safe location.
  • If someone is badly injured make sure that is communicated to the first responders and the emergency operators.