Falling asleep at the wheel: how one man survived a head-on collision

For Freddie Lim, a microsleep while driving led to a collision with a 10-wheeler truck. Here’s how his Subaru Forester helped ensure that day didn’t end tragically.

Freddie Lim, 57, thinks nothing of hitting the road once a week as part of his job as a salesman specializing in interiors and fittings. Traveling several hours from his base in Manila is routine, and he enjoys the long journeys. On one of these trips, he was in a serious car accident with a 10-wheeler truck that left the front of his car entirely crushed — an event that could easily have ended in tragedy.

In the blink of an eye

That fateful day began with an early 6.30am start. Freddie and his engineer, Dodoy, who had accompanied him on an overnight job to visit a site in Daet, were heading back to Metro Manila. It was a 350 kilometer drive that would take them over seven hours. Three hours into the journey, Freddie realized he was starting to feel tired. They were cruising along a quiet stretch of road in Caluig, Quezon, when it happened: he fell asleep at the wheel.

They were traveling at around 50 km/h, but in seconds, without a chance for Freddie to be roused by his colleague, the car drifted out of its lane and ran head-on into the 10-wheeler truck. The SRS front airbags in Freddie’s Subaru Forester deployed instantly. “I only knew what happened when I woke up with the airbag in my face,” says Freddie. The impact was enough to shatter his glasses.


How they walked away unharmed

In the moments after the car crash, Freddie checked himself for injuries. Realizing he was unharmed, he turned to assist Dodoy, whose vision was blurred. A group of onlookers were able to help them out of the wreckage. Subaru developed its Collision Detection Unlock function for all doors and the rear gate to help drivers and passengers get out of their vehicles quickly and safely in an accident. The system also helps emergency crews swiftly gain access to help the injured.

Looking at photos of the accident, it seems miraculous that everyone in the Subaru survived — let alone walked away without serious injury. The front of Freddie’s car had wedged under the front cabin of the truck, and its hood was dramatically crumpled. “The car was a total wreck,” he says. “But nothing happened to me.”

“I used to think older cars with a hard shell were safer,” says Freddie, who was curious about the safety features that had made such a difference that day. “But the cars designed with crumple zones are much better.”

“We waited about an hour for help,” Freddie says, remembering the day of his accident. Eventually, he rang his colleagues to get assistance and a ride home. “I didn’t feel anything was wrong, so I didn’t even go to the hospital,” he says. “When my wife learned what happened, she was so relieved.”

“The car was a total wreck, but nothing happened to me.”

Layers of protection

In fact, multiple safety features in his Forester combined to protect Freddie and Dodoy that day. The car’s frame is manufactured from high-strength steel, with connecting pillars that form a protective cage for the occupants during an accident. Known as the Ring-shaped Reinforcement Frame, it protects the entire cabin from shock, no matter the direction of impact. This frame is combined with front and rear crumple zones that redistribute impact energy away from the cabin, creating the safest environment possible for the occupants.

In front-on collisions, one of the greatest risks is of the car engine being forced into the cabin, seriously injuring the driver and passengers. Subaru’s boxer engine was designed to slide under the floor of the car upon impact instead of directly into the passenger cabin, in order to prevent injury. Even the brakes and pedals have been designed for safety: Subaru’s Auto-retracting Safety Pedals will yield in a front-on crash, reducing the chance of injury to the driver’s legs and ankles.

Life after the accident

The day after the accident Freddie was back to work - and life moved on. “It was like nothing happened,” he says. But the greatest lesson from the experience is that driving while tired can lead to potentially fatal circumstances: Freddie knows he is fortunate to be alive - and that nobody involved in the accident was harmed.

“There was a sari-sari (neighbourhood) store where people gather, right where the accident happened,” says Freddie. I’m lucky that I didn’t hit anyone there.” Once a reluctant seat belt wearer, he’s also thankful that he chose to wear his seat belt that day — a habit he has never broken since.

Some things don’t change, though. Freddie still loves driving, and he still enjoys his long journeys — in his latest Subaru Forester.

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