Almost everyone will witness an auto accident at some point. Because it's instinct to react with shock when you see it, it's important to be prepared and know how to handle the situation safely. Making the wrong decisions can put yourself and others in harm's way. Whether you're the sort to rush in and save the day or you tend to want to lay low, here are some rules of the road to follow the next time you witness a car crash.
Do Not Stop in the Road
Many are compelled to stop and help, and that's fine. But unless you're directly behind the accident, and you have no choice but to stop, it's better to pull over to a safe place, out of traffic.
Stopping in the road can lead to other accidents, not to mention frustrated drivers and backed up traffic. So instead, pull over onto the shoulder of the road. If possible, you should be at least 100 feet away from the accident site itself. This is to give the paramedics and other personnel ample room to access the victims and drivers.
If you're on the highway or a major city street that's crawling with traffic, and there's no safe place to pull over, don't. Keep driving until you spot an appropriate location to place a call to 911.
Do Not Attempt to Direct Traffic
Directing traffic around an accident might seem like the right thing to do, but it's not. There are numerous stories of people being struck by oncoming traffic. It happens to police officers all too often. You're putting other drivers at risk if you don't know what you're doing. And believe it or not, you could be cited for breaking the law. It takes someone who's been highly trained to pull this off safely and legally.
A good alternative—and this is only recommended for minor accidents with no injuries—would be to help the drivers move their vehicles off the road. You shouldn't drive their cars for them. But they may be in shock or scared. Quite often, they just need a calming presence or someone who can tell them what to do and sit with them until help arrives.
Don't Try To Be a Hero
The laws vary from state to state, but if you try to help an injured person after an auto accident, and your actions exacerbate their condition or you further injure them, you could be held liable. It's generally recommended to let the injured remain still, unless they are in the path of fire.
In some states, Good Samaritan laws protect any civilian, while in other states they only protect trained and licensed health care professionals, so long as they aren't negligent or showing willful misconduct. In some cases, all that's required to be protected by the Good Samaritan law is to have completed an approved first aid course. It's important to know the laws in your state.
Help the Victims as Best You Can
So how can you be a hero without making matters worse? If you can do it safely, assess the injuries of the persons involved, and then call 911. The person you speak with will likely ask how many people are hurt, if anyone is unconscious or bleeding, or if you can feel a pulse. This can help the paramedics prepare for what to expect.
If there aren't any serious injuries, and the drivers are just a little shaken up, offer to call a friend or family member. They might need someone to drive them home or pick up a child from school, and maybe they're too upset to make the call themselves. You never know how something simple like this can make all the difference in the world.
Tell the Officer What You Saw
At this point, paramedics and/or officers should be on the scene. What you say now could help the victims whether a lawsuit arises or not.
Insurance companies and auto accident attorneys often interview witnesses in order to determine the facts. This doesn't necessarily mean you'll have to appear in court. Quite often, a statement is all that's needed to pass along to the insurance company.
Your role as a witness to an auto accident can help tremendously in determining fault. In many accidents, it comes down to one driver blaming the other. Your credibility as a witness is greater if you saw the accident from start to finish, you were a pedestrian and weren't distracted by driving, you have no memory problems, and you weren't intoxicated at the time.
If you have a camera or smart phone, take pictures and offer to send them to the people involved. This could prove to be invaluable when fighting their case.