What a Passenger Should Do in the Event of an Incapacitated Driver

After landing at LaGuardia Airport, you disembark the plane and gather your luggage. Having never been to New York, you decide to use Uber to get to your hotel in lieu of renting a car. Five minutes after activating your app, the driver arrives and helps stow your luggage. Tired from a long day of travel, you climb into the front passenger seat and put on your seatbelt. The driver turns onto I-278 West, reaching speeds of 75 mph. You are zoned out but trying to make casual conversation with the driver. Panic strikes as the vehicle goes barreling toward the Jersey barriers separating east and westbound traffic. You stare in absolute horror at your incapacitated driver!

The vehicle veers toward the side of the road as you franticly try to reach for the steering wheel and pedals. Of course, your belt is on and you can’t reach them. The vehicle slams into another vehicle and you bounce off it, striking a Jersey barrier. The air bags go off and the car fills with smoke, making it difficult to see the roadway. You come to rest with the sound of cars slamming on their brakes all around you to avoid striking you from behind.

How can we prevent this from happening to us? First and foremost, by changing our way of thinking. 

You are no longer a “passenger” inside a vehicle. You are an active participant inside that car and you have a responsibility to everyone inside.

Changing your mindset is a form of preparation, not paranoia.  

After changing your “I’m only a passenger” approach, we work toward adjusting your physical positioning inside the vehicle. You need to establish a good working base. Place your outside foot onto the bottom of the pillar near the floor board. This position creates a stable platform, allowing you to move into the driver’s seat if necessary.

Second, you need to think about the number-one priority in this situation: getting control of the steering wheel as soon as possible. If the driver goes down, reach over from the passenger seat and grab the steering wheel while trying to avoid striking another car, going off the roadway or slamming into a barrier. 

Third, know how your seatbelt works. Does it release from the side, the top or elsewhere? Unfastening your seatbelt is critical for gaining access to the steering wheel, brake and gas pedals.

After controlling the steering wheel, index your right hand high on the chest strap of the seatbelt.  

Run your hand down to the buckle and hit the release. Use that outside foot to push off the pillar to move into the driver’s seat. Subsequently, you may have to climb over a center console. Do not use the steering wheel to pull yourself over. This may cause the vehicle to swerve dangerously.

Finally, use your inside (left foot) to push high on the driver’s leg(s) to move them away from the brake and the gas pedals. After clearing his legs and feet apply the gas and or brake, whichever the situations calls for. If the driver’s feet are too difficult to move, put the vehicle into neutral. 

Being a passenger in a vehicle with an incapacitated driver can be tense and uncertain. Such an occurrence may manifest rapidly. Keeping calm during such an event will help you to better and more quickly process information and execute the above techniques.

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