You're stopped at a red light and see a car zooming up behind you. It's obvious that the car won't stop in time to avoid rear-ending you. Do you take your foot off the brake to allow the car to roll as the car pushes forward? Or should you stay put and brace for the impact?
Your split-second decision may determine the severity of your injuries and, perhaps, the severity of the hike in your auto insurance premiums.
Follow the experts' advice on how to handle these common behind-the-wheel emergencies so that you have a better shot at saving your car, your life -- and your money.
You're stopped at a red light and see a car zooming up behind you.
The best thing you can do when another vehicle is about to hit you from behind is rest your body against the seat and headrest, and relax, says Jason Hart, a professional driving coach in Flower Mound, Texas.
"Move your hands to the sides of the steering wheel so when the air bag goes off, your arms are not thrown toward your face," Hart says.
Plus, keep your foot on the brake to prevent your car from slamming into the one in front of you. If there's time, turn your steering wheel to direct your car away from oncoming traffic.
You notice an oncoming car is about to hit your car head on.
Head-on crashes account for about half of all traffic deaths on U.S. roads, according to the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
If you see a car heading straight for you, slow down your car as soon as possible, Hart says. If one vehicle slows down, the total impact of a head-on crash is minimized.
Change lanes if you can, unless doing so puts you in greater danger.
A car runs a red light as you cross the intersection and is about to T-bone you.
Side-impact crashes cause about one-fourth of traffic deaths, according to the highway safety institute.
If you spot a car that's about to smash into the side of your car, quickly look for a safe opening in traffic, race car driver Mandy Williams says. "If you find one, hit the gas and head for it," she says.
Williams points out that unless your car is equipped with air bags, there's little protection between the vehicle's side panel and your body.
An animal darts out in front of your car.
Hart says it doesn't pay to risk your life to avoid hitting an animal, even a deer. While it's the humanitarian thing to do, swerving to avoid a critter can cause you to lose control of your car, he says. "Swerving to avoid hitting it potentially puts you and those around you in danger," Hart says.
The insurance costs of crashing
The effect of a crash on your auto insurance rates depends largely on who was at fault. In some cases, the at-fault driver can easily be pinpointed, says Robert Ryan Jr., president of Ryan & Ryan Insurance Brokers Inc. in New York. "For example," he says, "if a driver hits you from behind, it's always that driver's fault -- no exceptions."
Determining fault in a head-on or side-impact crash can be trickier, experts say. If you're found to be at fault in a crash, that can raise your premiums by 30 percent a year for several years, Ryan says.