What to do when you run into trouble on the highway

EMERGENCY SITUATION: You and your fellow Scouts and Scouters are on your way to Northern Tier for a weekend of skill building. Suddenly, a deer darts into the road and collides with the car. The injured deer hobbles off into the woods, but the car crashes on the side of the road. What should you do? 


Survive This Highway AccidentYOU CAN’T EXCHANGE insurance information with the deer. So immediately help your fellow Scouters and Scouts.

Car accidents—not lightning, forest fires, floods, or bears—are one of the leading causes of serious injuries to Scouts in the United States. This makes sense, because motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among 5- to 34-year-olds in this country. There are several steps you can take to not only increase the odds of survival for the victims, but also (equally important) to prevent a second accident and further injury.

1. PUT YOUR HAZARD LIGHTS ON as you move the car off the road. It should be as far from the travel lanes as possible. Moving the car will help to avoid a strike from an oncoming vehicle, while the lights will signal your position.

2. CALL FOR HELP on your mobile phone. Give your location and direction of travel, using approximate distance from the closest exit and/or a mile marker if one is visible. A GPS device, of course, will give your position to within a few meters. Stay on the phone as you check on any injured passengers. Tell the 911 operator whether the accident resulted in bumps and bruises or more traumatic injuries and tell her the number of people in the vehicle. This information will aid the response.

3. ALERT OTHER DRIVERS. Have another adult open a roadside emergency kit and set up emergency triangles, traffic cones, or road flares several hundred feet behind the accident scene. This is especially important at night. (Don’t have an emergency roadside kit? Pack these items: bit.ly/roadside.)

Place the warning signals in a line that angles away from the scene, across the shoulder, and toward the travel lanes. Avoid walking in the travel lanes. If a working flashlight is available, move it slowly in an up-and-down motion while the signals are positioned. For a car still in the travel lanes and unable to move, set up the warning signals in the appropriate lane, angling toward the open lane, to help warn oncoming motorists.

4. THINK BEFORE MOVING VICTIMS. In general, treating injured passengers should be left to emergency personnel and unbuckling the victims is not recommended. This is because even a conscious person who appears uninjured may have internal bleeding. Removing the victim may exacerbate injuries. If the car’s interior is intact—and all the passengers were belted in—use your best judgment to decide whether to remove them from the vehicle. Note that some spinal and neck injuries, such as whiplash, can occur even during minor accidents, so take extra care when treating the injured. In addition, airbag deployment often results in first-degree burns so be careful when touching the other people traveling in the car.

5. IF YOU DON’T HAVE CELL SERVICE, you may be unable to contact trained responders. In this situation, you might have to triage and treat the victims yourself. In these circumstances, you should remove injured passengers from the car, immobilize them on a backboard or suitable substitute, and then treat visible wounds with direct pressure to slow blood loss.

JOSH PIVEN is co-author of the Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook series. Find him online at facebook.com/jpiven.

To save money, many municipalities have recently passed laws limiting the police response to minor traffic accidents. This means that a fender bender with no injuries will not result in a police or ambulance arriving on the scene. You should still call 911 to report the accident; the operator will advise you on the next steps. Always document an accident—even a one-car accident—with photos. The BSA requires you complete an incident information report (No. 680-016) and turn this form in to your council service center.

Learn more about how to safely transport Scouts to events.


  1. A Letter to the Editor received from Todd Long, a game warden from Gregg County, Tex.:

    As a former scout, I enjoy reading Scouting magazine and supporting BSA via my local troops. Your recent “Deer in the Headlights?” article hit home for me as I work many of these accidents as a Texas Game Warden. Throughout the fall of each year wardens receive numerous calls from motorists who are unsure of what to do with the victim deer. I would like to add to this informative piece what to do (and not to do) with the deer.

    Here in Texas, it is a state violation to be in possession of a deer, or any part of a deer that has been hit by a motor vehicle. I am aware of unscrupulous hunters who remove parts and antlers from these deer for profits and contest entries. Other times, innocent motorists pick up these deer unaware that they are in violation of the law.

    As your article mentioned, many mucipalities have laws limiting their response to minor accidents. So if you have killed or wounded a deer or other wild animal along the roadway and unsure of what to do, try contacting your local warden as we are manytimes available to assist.

    Wardens can sometimes facilitate the injured deer being rehabilitated by permitted individuals. Other times, wardens might partner with local processors, Feed-the-Hungry programs and others who donate the venison to food shelters and individual families in need.

    I encourage scouts to get to know their local Game Wardens, conservation officers and other wildlife officials beforehand. As conservation law enforcement officers, much of what we do parallels the scouting program.

    Thanks for your informative and timely article.

    Todd Long
    Game Warden, Gregg County, TX

  2. One night years ago I came across on man in a car that had just hit and killed a deer. He was a paraplegic, wheelchair bound, and did not know what to do. I helped him load the dead deer into his station wagon.Told him to call the NY Dept on Conservation and report what had happened. This was long before cell phones. I believe he was allowed to keep the deer for the venison.

  3. Since this was Northern Tier, let’s play by Minnesota rules. I have not lived there in close to 25 years, but I am pretty sure the law has not changed. In Minnesota any Minnesota resident may claim a road-killed animal by contacting a law enforcement officer. An authorization permit will be issued allowing the individual to lawfully possess the deer. You can then reprocess the deer. It is up to the officer to decide. If they suspect shananigans, then the deer goes elsewhere. Otherwise, as an emergency RN of over 40 years I pretty much agree.

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