How To Take Control Of A Car If Your Driver Dies

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A few weeks ago my coworker Mike Ballaban and I got to learn the most hardcore driving technique I can possibly imagine. We learned what to do if your driver gets killed.

We went up to Team O’Neil Rally School ostensibly to do powerslides for science in a modified Ford Focus RS. Rally-style driving is why most people think of Team O’Neil.

But the school also does tactical driving training for a number of America’s special forces, government contractors and some of “the three-letter acronyms,” as they put it. Wyatt Knox at the school wouldn’t tell me exactly who goes up to the icy wilds of New Hampshire for these week-long courses , but he was able to teach me one of their defensive driving drills.


They call it ‘Driver Down’ and it’s probably the most extreme technique you can learn. Here’s the car we drove, a stock (and rather tired) Ford Crown Victoria. Well, it was stock, other than the huge bumpers the school puts on their Crown Vics for PIT maneuver training.

Let’s look at those bumpers. Tough.


And here’s where we did the drill, out in Team O’Neils upper skid pad in the woods. If you look closely in this photo you can see we are, uh, making sure the Crown Vic worked fine.


The idea of the drill is that you’re riding in a car and your driver, for whatever reason, becomes incapable of operating the vehicle. Maybe the driver passes out, maybe the driver gets shot by enemy forces, whatever. You need to take control of the vehicle. How do you do that?

The official technique is to move over as close to the wheel as you can, sweep out your driver’s legs so you can get access to the gas, brake and clutch if it’s there. From there you need to take the steering wheel and you pretty much have all of the controls necessary to operate the car as normal. You have your feet on the pedals, you have a hand on the wheel, and even though you’re not in the driver’s seat, you can functionally drive the car to safety. Bring it to a halt, try to help the driver or move them out of the way, and get back going. It sounds easy in practice, but trust me, it’s a lot going on at the time when your driver slumps down at speed.


Again, those steps are:

  1. Move over
  2. Sweep the legs
  3. Grab control of the wheel
  4. Restrain the driver. They may be flailing, in which case get some leverage by grabbing the driver’s side door’s armrest. Or you might not need to. Your driver, you know, might be dead.
  5. Drive to safety.
  6. Come to a stop when you can.

Again, this sounds like it’s pretty simple, and it is, but it’s also one of the gnarliest things you can train for behind the wheel. Hopefully I never have to put any of it to the test.