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Many drivers today have either been trained to handle most road emergencies through driver education courses or painful personal experience. Most of us know how to drive out of a controllable skid, for example, or how to negotiate an obstacle in the road without endangering other drivers. We also know what to do if our car should break down in unfamiliar territory, or how to make those small repairs that will get us back on the road.

But occasionally you may be faced with a driving situation for which no amount of training can fully prepare you. These are the extreme circumstances you always hope you would never have to face as a driver. A car crosses the center line and faces you head on, your car loses control on a narrow bridge and falls into the water, a pedestrian appears out of nowhere and you cannot stop in time. What should you do in such dire circumstances? Here are some extreme driving situations you may have to face, and tips on how to handle them.

1. Head-on collisions. This situation is perhaps the one most feared by drivers in general, and unfortunately the one most likely to occur during average driving conditions. The scenario is this: You are driving east on a two-lane highway. A car in the westbound lane is forced to swerve in order to miss an animal. He is now squarely in your lane, and is not making an effort to pull back into his own. The driver may be intoxicated, distracted or very tired. The distance between you and his car is closing rapidly. What do you do?

Answer: anything that works. Even if you could alert the other driver by blowing your horn or flashing your lights, you can never be sure that he will respond in time. Assume that you are destined for a head-on collision. Aim for the righthand side of the road, no matter what's there. Dented metal can be fixed, so defuse the situation by actively avoiding the other car. If you do not have the time or opportunity to pull to the right, then you must minimize the impact as best you can. As a last minute effort, steer your car slightly to the left, which will cause the other car to strike you at an indirect angle. You'll spin around several times, but you will have avoided the more severe damage of a direct collision. If you have airbags, trust them to work faster than you can imagine. If you are concerned that your engine will be forced into the driving compartment, keep this in mind: Engines are designed to fall straight down if a collision of that magnitude should occur. The front ends of most cars are also designed to crumple during impact, which takes much of the energy out of the crash before it reaches the driving compartment. A head-on collision can be a traumatic experience, but is also survivable if you develop good defensive driving instincts. Play the 'what if' game for practice. As you're driving down a busy highway, imagine what you would do if a car suddenly swerved into your path.

2.Sudden appearance of a pedestrian. We would like to think that all pedestrians abide by the rules, and that we can always see them coming in plenty of time to take evasive action. But just read any newspaper in any city, and you'll read at least one case of a child struck by a car or a pedestrian struck at a busy intersection. Depending on the circumstances, a negligent driver can face charges up to vehicular homicide. Typically, a driver is not charged in a situation where a pedestrian suddenly appears in his path and nothing could be done to avoid contact. But the emotional impact of accidentally causing harm to another human being can be substantial. Here's some advice on what to do in a 'sudden pedestrian' situation:

Remember, where there's smoke, there's fire. More precisely, where there is a ball rolling into the street, there is probably a small child or pet chasing after it. If you see a group of children near the street, anticipate that at least one of them will charge out to retrieve a lost ball. If you see a group of young bicyclists, assume that none of them know how to ride in traffic. If you see a group of pedestrians waiting to cross a busy street, assume that at least one of them will try to cross at the wrong moment. Anticipation is the primary key to avoiding pedestrian/car incidents.

But what if you simply cannot avoid the contact? If the pedestrian suddenly appears in front of you, you must make every effort to stop your car. Investigators want to see skid marks or any other indication that you did everything you could to avoid an accident. The street may be full of potential witnesses, so everything you do from the point of contact through the police interview will be under scrutiny. Did you blow your horn? What blocked your view of the pedestrian? How much time did you have to react? How fast were you driving? These questions will be asked, and your answers should be clear and truthful. Witnesses should be able to back up your story completely. Your first priority should be the victim's health. Offer all assistance you can- first aid, blankets, calling for an ambulance. If you cannot perform these actions, then try to find others who can. Make sure someone has called 911. Keep the victim still and comfortable- DO NOT MOVE THEM YOURSELF, unless it is an extreme circumstance.

Once the immediate accident situation has been dealt with, you must work on the emotional aspect of the accident. Relatives of the victim may be overwrought with emotions, and may accuse you of negligence or worse. Realize that they have been through a traumatic experience and may not be completely rational. Make yourself available to answer any questions they may have, but also spend some time decompressing from the stress of being involved in an accident.

3. Underwater entrapment. This is a rare occurance for most drivers, but does claim a number of lives every year. The scenario: You are driving down a dark, unfamiliar road at night. A narrow bridge follows a curve to the left ahead of you, but you fail to negotiate the tight turn. Your car misses the bridge entirely and falls into the water 20 feet below. What do you do next? Answer: Pick your moment. The car will most likely survive the initial impact of the water. The driver may receive a strong jolt, however. From that moment on, things are going to happen fast, so keep your head on straight and don't make rash decisions out of panic.

The car may still be operational for a few minutes, so spend that time unlocking electronic doors and rolling up electric windows. If your window is already down, it has now become your first escape plan. If you feel confident that you can reach the surface in one breath, swim through the window to safety. If the windows are closed and the car is no longer operational, then crawl towards the backseat area of the car. A car will naturally start sinking front-end first, due to the weight of the engine compartment. All of your available air will collect in a pocket in the backseat area. If you try to open the car doors at this point, you'll find that they are nearly impossible to open due to the outside water pressure. You must wait until the water inside the car equalizes the pressure of the outside water. This means that you must take a generous last breath, open the door underwater, then swim to the surface. One common mistake made by desperate drivers and passengers is losing their sense of direction in the water. Forget the 'artificial horizon' created by the car- follow the direction of the bubbles or where your body naturally wants to float. Once on the surface, get out of the water as soon as possible, to avoid hypothermia.

4. Rollovers. Not so much a driving skill as a crash survival skill, nonetheless a driver should be aware of what to do when he is no longer in control of the car. A rollover may occur during an high-impact accident, and is one of the scariest moments for driver and passenger alike. The most important thing you can do as a driver is make sure everyone is wearing a seatbelt at all times. During a rollover, the belt and shoulder harness will be the only things holding a person to the seat. Ejections from the car are common with unbelted drivers, and these ejections are often much more serious than the initial rollover.

As a driver, you should also be aware of the times when you cannot do anything. A rollover situation is bigger than any driver's skills, so all you can do is wait for the car to stop rolling and assess the damage afterward. Although this scenario doesn't seem to fit the criteria for an extreme DRIVING situation, it still illustrates an important driving element following a severe accident- a good driver should know his limitations and trust the car's own defenses. In an unavoidable crash situation, a driver's memory can often prove more valuable that any defensive driving maneuver he may have performed.