Sometimes, even the most careful drivers may be involved in an accident or narrowly avoid a crash.
Even if you and your passengers escape injury, those situations can still be scary and cause a lot of stress.
Similarly, if you witness a road traffic accident - particularly one in which people are hurt - what you’ve seen may stay with you for some time.
Coping with a near miss or road incident
Most drivers will have had at least one moment where they realise how close they came to being badly hurt. For some people, even if they’re physically unscathed, this can have a deep psychological impact, sometimes with lasting effects.
Immediately after the incident - or near miss - you might go through a range of feelings, from shock and fear, to guilt, nervousness, or anger.
Rest assured this is perfectly natural. In situations where we feel unsafe or distressed, our body initiates a ‘fight or flight’ response triggering a surge of stress hormones that produce physical changes. As a result, you may feel jittery or even physically sick. You probably won’t be able to think straight and may feel disconnected from what's happening around you.
It’s essential to try to remain calm. Staying calm allows you to think about your situation and can prevent you from making rash decisions.
First off, when it’s safe to do so, pull over and turn off your engine. You may need some time to compose yourself; unless there’s a medical emergency, don’t let other drivers or passengers rush you.
This may be as simple as taking a few deep breaths or counting to 10 to calm down. The calmer you are, the better prepared you will be to handle the situation.
If you have been in an accident - rather than experiencing a near miss - it can help you feel more in control of the situation if you already know the steps to take after a crash, such as contacting the police, if necessary, and making an insurance claim. See our what to do if you're in a car accident guide on how to go about this in the best possible way.
When you can, seek support, by telling somebody what happened and talking through it.
Drive very carefully afterwards
Once you have had time to calm down after an accident or near-miss, if your car is drivable, you’ll need to be able to complete your journey.
Driving could possibly be the last thing you want to do at that moment, as you may still feel very tense. So, make sure you only get back on the road when you feel fit to do so and don’t feel rushed by building traffic or impatient road users. In fact, research has shown that accidents are more common after a traumatic or stressful even and one study showed this was particularly the case for city driving.
Coping with the longer-term aftermath
After a shocking or traumatic experience, it can take a few hours for your body to get back to its normal state.
It’s also not uncommon for particularly traumatic experiences, such as road accidents, to have long term effects on your mental health, which may last weeks or months.
If you’re finding it hard to cope after a traumatic road experience, take a look at this advice from the Royal College of Psychiatrists to get the support you need and get back on the road confidently and safely.