The vehicle survival kit has long been a foundational part of preparedness training and planning. Depending on the training you have or lean towards, be it more tactical or wilderness minded, will largely dictate the type of kit you build and the types of emergency scenarios you plan to circumvent. I have seen kits take up the back of a Suburban that include chainsaws and welding tools to the old standard pocket survival kit. Many of you I would imagine fall somewhere in between these two extremes. I have been a professional survival skills instructor for a little over a decade, and I have created a variety of kits to fit my personal needs over the years, most of which include a blend of basic tactical and wilderness elements with practical things in mind such as my vehicle simply breaking down or me being stranded a day or two.
In my kits I have always included essential tools contained in a cross body style bag or haversack that included a ways for me to hydrate, manage by bodies core temperature, signal for rescue and eat. Most often, I would place my kits in the trunk or in some of my vehicles, under the wheel well cover or nested inside the rim of the spare tire. This was so the kits remained out of sight and didn't get in the way when getting groceries or performing the myriad of other tasks related to family life. Over the years, these kits have come in handy at times when I needed some cordage, a quick tarp, or some band-aids and even when I patched a tire with paracord and drove it another 40 miles.
As my eldest son began to drive, one of the first things we did was build a vehicle kit in case his ragged out Mercury Villager (yes, a mini van) broke down on one of his long drives home from work (which it did the first week). This past year, in 2019, we upgraded all our vehicle kits to water resistant totes, the same type you can use to store ammo in. The size of these were a bit better for our larger family needs and enabled us to add in a few extras for vehicle recovery such as a tow strap, flare, some bottled water and snacks with better quality emergency tools, you know, for those times we may need to abandon the relative safety of our vehicle to create that amazing shelter in the woods. Yeah, I'm not sure why we plan for that, but a great many do. In reality, I've never had to really rely upon one of our kits to meet a true emergency need, that is until the night of December 5th 2019.
On December 5th, 2019 at around 11:50 PM my son was in a bad accident. He veered off to avoid an animal crossing the road which took him off road to a sudden drop off where he first hit a road sign, then an embankment that flipped his vehicle end over end investigators believe at least twice before catapulting into the air to be caught by two trees at about 10ft high. The vehicle came to rest on the ground, on the passengers side. I had been waiting on him to get home from work and I had a feeling in my gut as he was running a few minutes later than usual. Suddenly, the tones for our fire department went off and I instantly knew it was him. I raced out the door hearing only an idea of where the accident had occurred. I've been a volunteer firefighter and rescue technician for a little over a decade, and I've been to dozens of accidents and have seen a lot of fatalities. But I was definitely rattled on that drive to the scene worried at what I might find going on with my own child. It was only 3 miles away and I got their in as many minutes. Thankfully, training kicked in as I did my scene survey and called out to him. He was unconscious and I, being first on scene, still had not heard anyone else come on the radio. I was able to open the drivers door and saw my son lying across the passenger side windows. His seat belt was still attached in his seat, so he had slipped right out mid-accident. I yelled his name and he instantly opened his eyes and responded. He took a moment to gather his thoughts and asked what had happened. I then heard local EMS and other first responders on the radio and en route.
Upon regaining his composure, I asked if he could move and he could. I then asked if he could stand up, which he did, and that's when I plucked my eighteen year old out of the car like he was still a two year old. I did a quick trauma assessment, checked for pupil response, and other than a few bruises and a little blood from the airbag to the face and some on his leg, all appeared normal. I escorted him over to my vehicle and sat him down. After about a minute, he started getting chills and asked to be warmed (early signs of shock), I turned on the heated seat and went for my vehicle kit as I knew there had to be something in there. Well, there was nothing of value for his condition. The tarp in that kit was a nylon backpackers tarp, worthless for what he needed. I also had only dry cloth, duct tape and survival type items- things I can use effectively in wilderness settings when I have nothing else- but for this environment, using these items was more of a hassle than a benefit. I then went for his vehicle kit, but guess what? That was inaccessible as the trunk was virtually nonexistent at the time and I later found out that the kit was found 20 yards from the vehicle out in the field. So, I ended up giving him my coat and it was about that time that EMS had finally arrived. This all happened in the span of about 8 minutes!
Here are some things I took away from that night which I believe you will find very useful.
1) According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an estimated 40% of all car accidents are rear-end collisions. So there is a 40% chance that you will not be able to access you emergency kit if you store it in your trunk space or in your wheel well. T-bone collisions, sideswipe accidents, and rollover accidents must also be taken into account as these also risk damaging the vehicle enough to prevent access to your kit. All in all, there is as high as a 60% chance you could not access your emergency kit when you need it! Therefore, stowing your primary emergency kit in your trunk space is a poor choice. Instead, this space should be reserved only for bulky items such as additional changes of footwear and clothing, bug-out type items and larger tools of any variety- primary emergency items should be kept elsewhere.
2) A kit designed for wilderness or tactical style urban survival will do you very little good in a serious car accident. Should you even be coherent enough to use it, delayed onset injuries or secondary injuries may prevent you from thinking clearly. Your kit should provide Medical Aid first! Should my son have been able to extricate himself from the vehicle, which I believe he could have done, his delayed injuries and concussion would have absolutely prevented him from caring for himself overnight. After his self-extrication he would have most likely found a spot nearby and passed out, only to add hypothermia to his list of problems. If this were you or you were assisting a friend or loved one that was injured in the same vehicle you are in- you need a proper first aid kit designed to stop bleeding, maintain core body temperature and aid medical complications so much as your level of training will allow.
3) The primary kit should be within arms reach of anyone in the vehicles occupancy compartment. In my opinion, the back of the driver and passenger headrests are the best spots for immediate first aid/trauma kits and should be secured with heavy velcro or another tear away system. The seat backs should be reserved for survival related items which might attach with molle. The headrests will be accessible by front passengers easily by reaching behind themselves or across to the opposite seats and for rear passengers by simply reaching forward. Survival items should be securely fastened to seat backs so that contents will not spill out in the event the vehicle violently overturns. Lastly, everyone in the family should be trained well on what is in the kits and how they should be used. We developed our online Modern Survival course with family training in mind- everyone can learn the basics at home in the backyard!
4) Consider adding a strap cutter to each seat belt mount or again, to the first aid kit on the back of the headrest. In my experience over the past decade in the fire & rescue services, I have had to cut my fair share of seat belts as the buttons at times become too difficult to access or simply lock up, especially on older vehicles. If I were injured or unable to access my seat belt to extricate myself, a way to cut myself or other passengers free easily and quickly would certainly help to alleviate my stress and frustration.
5) If you carry a firearm, keeping it attached to your body is the best option in my opinion, albeit an uncomfortable option for many concealed carriers. Should you decide on a vehicle mounted holster to stow your weapon while driving, consider one that is bolted to the vehicle securely and one that locks the weapon securely into it such as the Blac-Rac Weapon Retention System. Do not rely on magnetized systems to hold in the weapon in the event of an accident.
Download my Vehicle Survival Kit Checklist HERE complete with links to the items I use and/or recommend.
Use this checklist to help build or tweak your current vehicle kit to best fit the needs of your family in a time of crisis.