Being involved in a road crash for many is often an unpleasant experience. The effects of the road crash do not stop after the crash itself. Below are some of direct impact of road crashes:
• loss of life or serious, permanent injury
• impacts to their lifestyle or employment
• motor vehicle damage
• increased insurance premiums and excesses
• legal implications such as driving convictions and penalties
• loss of a loved one
What Should I Say to Someone After a Road Crash?
Some people are afraid of what to say after a loved one has been significantly impacted by a road crash. They may feel overwhelmed knowing they can not take their pain away, especially if the road crash was very serious. However, do not let this prevent you from reaching out. You do not need to solve their problems—you just need to show you are there for them. We often refer to these as ‘courageous conversations’.
Below is some helpful advice:
“I am Glad You Are Okay”
Road crashes are not easy for anyone involved. Just knowing that you are glad they survived and they are still with you today will mean so much.
Let them know that you cannot imagine what they are going through but you are here if they need someone to talk or if they need anything else.
“I am Here For You if You Need Anything”
If they want to talk about the accident, give them the space to do so. Do not force them to say anything they are not comfortable with. Just be there to listen.
Also, remember that this person has not changed just because they were in a car accident. If they are in the hospital or have severe injuries, your presence may mean a lot.
Some people find attending to insurance, litigation or attending healthcare appointments stressful. You could offer to provide some practical support or attend healthcare appointments with them.
“How Are You Feeling?”
When you first see the friend or loved one after the accident, ask how they are feeling. Be prepared for a less-than-happy answer. Some people feel hopeful and even grateful for surviving a road crash, but many survivors experience other feelings and emotions such as pain, sadness, anger, despair or loss.
Give them space to communicate these feelings to you. They will go through tough days (or weeks, or months) before things get better, and that is okay. Healing is a process that takes time.
Also, follow up with them regularly. Instead of saying, “Are you feeling better today?” ask, “How are you feeling/doing today?” This phrasing will allow them to be more honest and not feel pressure to be doing better if they are not.
“What Can I Do for You?”
Life does not stop just because of a road crash. On top of injuries and vehicle damage, the person still has daily responsibilities to worry about. They may experience other additional stresses, including associated medical costs (ACC surcharges), insurance matters, litigations matters such as attending court hearings or liaising with Police, loss of income, concerns about going back to work, caring for their children, and more.
What Should I NOT Say to Someone Who Has Just Been Involved in a Road Crash?
Providing support and letting the person impacted knowing you are there for them is so vitally important, and that includes not making the person feel worse. Sometimes, we do not necessarily know what to say.
Below are some useful phrases to avoid:
“Don’t Be So Upset. It Could Have Been Worse”
Anyone who has just been involved in a road crash will experience tough emotions afterwards. Road crashes are unexpected, painful and very stressful. They can leave survivors with serious injuries, life-long disabilities, emotional traumas such as depression, anxiety, or post traumatic stress disorder.
Anyone who has been involved in a road crash will need time to work through their feelings. Even if it is well-intentioned, it is important to avoid phrases that suggest the loved one should feel differently than they do. It is not possible to just say “stop being sad” or “get over it.” Telling them to cheer up right after the crash in fact impact their recovery.
“You Should [Insert Advice]”
Avoid giving advice on what the person should do to “get over the crash” —unless they specifically ask for it.
For many survivors, they are likely already overwhelmed with medical treatment, car repairs, and the insurance process. Right now, it is important not to overwhelm them.
“You Are Lucky You Survived”
In instances where there is a road survivor has been involved a fatal crash. It is not uncommon for survivors to be impacted by ‘survivors guilt’. Because there is so much trauma associated with fatal road crashes, everyone responds differently.
Some survivors may need more time to deal with the significant trauma they bared witness to. Although this statement has good intentions, in some cases, it may unintentionally re-trigger their emotions associated with the road crash. In most cases they will often talk to you when they are ready.