You Should Never Swerve. Good Advice?

Back in October, my cousin totalled his car when he swerved to avoid an owl in the road (yes, an owl!). The car went into a sideways slide and rolled in the ditch. My cousin was fine, but his car wasn’t. My brother said he was “stupid” for swerving. I say, perhaps, but we don’t know much about the incident, such as the speed, road conditions, other nearby obstacles, traffic, etc. But my brother went on to claim that one should never swerve under any circumstances. He gave the example of a child running out in front of your car, saying that you should just hit the child so that you don’t hit a nearby parked car, or oncoming car or whatever else may lurk on the road (perhaps another child).

This evolved into an argument, my brother saying never swerve under any circumstance and me saying it depends on the circumstances. I think people need to adjust their driving for different situations, reducing the need to swerve (or the odds of slamming into something). That’s why speed limits go down in residential areas, and that’s why you should slow down even more if there are pedestrians nearby, and slow down again if the weather conditions are bad.

My theory is that people are told not to swerve because there are a great deal of situations in which one should NOT swerve. By teaching people that the rule is “never swerve,” it may prevent panicking drivers from sending their cars all over the road. But I think, with experience, drivers need to learn when to swerve and when not to, and that it’s not as simple as “never swerve.”

At one point, my sister’s husband chimed in and said that modern cars have angled windshields so that anything you hit is more likely to roll over the vehicle. I found this astoundingly irrelevant, unless he is claiming that having something hit and roll over your car is better than not hitting anything at all. An opinion which I personally disagree with.

Come to think of it. I haven’t heard from my brother in a while. Maybe he is stuck on the highway waiting for a deer carcass to decompose so that he won’t have to go around it. Which brings up another question, does swerving imply that the tires are squealing? Even if it does, I do think I’d rather swerve and face whatever that brings than to slam into a child who ran in front of my car.

Never swerve for squirrels and rabbits. They double back into your swerve and they don’t hurt your car too much to run over them if they zig when they should’ve zagged.

I’d total an untold # of cars before I’d be willing to hit a kid when I think I might have a choice.

Mooses, on the other hand… going into the ditch and rolling is probably a safer bet.

Some people should not swerve, if they cannot maintain control of their vehicle. Same as some people should not drive on the freeway, or at night, or in the rain, or on snow. And some people should not drive at all.

I don’t think there’s any driving rule that you can actually say “You should never ____”. Every rule has its exception.

Whatta ya mean, “waiting for it to decompose”? Roadkill deer - that’s good eatin’s!!

I don’t think that saying “never swerve” is good advice. What chance do you think a child has against a two ton (or more) vehicle? Not much. Yeah, you may roll your car but if your seatbelt is on and you have airbags, you will probably just be mildly banged up. Now, I don’t think I would want to risk my life, my passengers lives or the lives of others on the road just to avoid a squirrel but something larger, like a CHILD, then I’ll roll my damn car.

You have to keep in mind too, that whether a car will roll easily depends on the car. Odds are my Saturn SL2 will not roll very easily. My partner’s Jeep Wrangler OTOH will most likely roll what with having a higher center of gravity and all. Less margin for error, over we go.

I saw and old (1970s) study on that topic done by some kind of safety institute.
They did a “small child runs in front of your car and stops in front of you” simulator run with state troopers in their service vehicles.
Their scenario didn’t have oncoming traffic, but they concluded that in a number of different distance and speed scenarios, the ONLY way to not hit the simulated child (actually a piece of posterboard on a yardstick) was to serve left and around it.
If I’m on a street with no oncoming traffic, I’m choosing “swerve” over “kill someone’s infant child”. If I have time to stop by means of braking, I’ll choose braking.
If there is heavy street traffic and no sidewalk traffic, my reflexes would probably default to “brake but hit the kid” or “drive onto the sidewalk”.

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His thesis is that it’s better to hit a child than a parked car???

Your brother is strange.

That sounds like what he’s getting at. I think the logic is that if you swerve, you may hit a parked car full of nuns, or an innocent bystandard on the sidewalk, when in reality the only solution (if you have to hit someone) is to hit the person that caused the whole thing in the first place.
If you’re going to be swerving recklessly, into who knows what, - to avoid the child, you should probably just hit the child, - who shouldn’t have been in the road to begin with.
Of course, what you should do and what you will do are two different things.
I would try to avoid the child by swerving if need be, unless there were other people in danger of getting hit by me.

As far as tires squealing as being an indicator of swerve-activity, I’d have to guess “no.” The tires on my Tracker sometimes squeal as I’m turning into a parking space. It’s just the effect of the asphalt on the tires, due to a variety of variables of which I’m completely ignorant.

What he may be getting at is insurance fault/payment situations.

Car runs red light…you swerve…miss car, hit parked car on side of road. Mysterious car may not even realize he caused an accident and drives away unscathed.

Accident fault yours…

Car runs red light, your cars collide, police interpret scene and interview bystanders, citations issued.

Accident fault…other guy.

Small animals and such…if you can’t stop…splatter them.

Children…legally and morally messy. Potentially sacrifice my own life over a kid who ran out in the street, maybe, if i swerve to miss the kid and hit moms beemer oarked on the side of the road do you think shes going to thank you for saving her kids life or call her lawyer to sue for her destroyed car and do her best to ignore her kid ran into the street.

You should never drive with a blindfold on.

You should never drive while sleeping.

You should never drive while having a heart attack.

You should never drive after having been shot in the head.


Property damage is one thing, that is what liabilty insurance is for. In your scenario, I doubt the person will get much more than the replacement of the vehicle or repairs as needed.

Killing a person to avoid property damage is involuntary homicide, if not worse, and is entirely another.

Animals go splat, unless of neccesary size to warrent the ditch.

I’ve had numerous deer run in front of me… I’ve found the best course (worked for me so far) is to pretty much stay calm and not over react… most of the time swerving does work to the disadvantage of the animal and the car/driver, as the animals tend to swerve to.

Felt that I should add that I work to avoid whenever possible… but if the hard choice need be made, and the animal can’t be safely avoided, animal go splat.

Knowing my brother, this is what he was getting at. He would rather save the potential money and hassle that would come with the blame of him swerving and just let someone’s child get smeared between his tires and the pavement. I’d just hit the beemer and take what comes with it. I wouldn’t lose any sleep at night with the image of a crushed beemer etched into my brain. In his interpretation, it’s more of an issue of legal responsibility over a moral responsibility, but for me the question of “should you swerve” is more of a physics question which is loaded with variables (which is why I ask “should you NEVER swerve?”). Seems to me that the answer is a resounding “it depends.” So I win.

I’m sure Brother is a fine person, but on this topic he’s an idiot, or an ass.

Swerving to avoid an owl is probably stupid. Swerving to avoid a deer is probably not stupid. Not swerving when swerving could prevent hitting a tree or the rear of a semi (assuming swerving wouldn’t obviously put one in greater danger) is definitely stupid. Not swerving when swerving could prevent hitting a pedestrian (and again, isn’t obviously unsafe) may be illegal.

Swerving is risky, and certainly can sometimes lead to loss of control. But when one is faced with a potentially fatal collision, swerving may give the best chance of minimal damage and injury.

In drivers ed, they taught us that if we felt we could easily maintain control of the car, there was no oncoming traffic, and it was something that posed a risk to your car (eg, a stalled 20-ton truck, rather than a cardboard box), swerve.

Hijack: I had a professor who has been teaching at that school for something like fifty years, and told us he liked to teach this particular (required) freshman course “to thin the herd a bit”. Scary, scary man and he did not put up with anything. Anyway, campus legend has it that ten years or so back, he had a heart attack while at home, and drove himself to the hospital with his wife in the passenger seat. Why? He doesn’t believe in heart attacks.

I have also been told basically the same thing by my insurance agent, especially if its low speed resisdential area somebody pulls out in front of you, brake and if you can’t stop, were not legally doing anything wrong, clobber him and let the insurance companies hammer it out.

One of the hard things for me is I learned alot of good habits driving ambulances, one of the things always in the back of your mind is, who else is in my car as well. If we are talking a major city street and kid bolts into the street, traffic moving in the 45-50 mph range, with myself, my wife, and my 7 year old twin sons on board. Do I take evasive action probably causing a multi car pileup risking not only my family but the lives of anyone else nearby or splatter the one kid with minimal risk to anyone else.

Live with some nightmares and maybe need a little therapy or subject my whole immediate family on a roll of the dice that even if i succeed in saving the kids life the resulting devastation could easily ruin the rest of my life and I most likely will be held criminally and financially accountable for the injuries and damage to everyone else.

Legally, the better option is probably to dispense a Darwin Award and live with the nightmares. Cold, but as I understand it, true.