Car accidents can be very scary.  I know – I’ve been in a nasty one myself.  My mom and sister were very nearly in one the other day, and it got me thinking about what you should do when you witness an accident.  Here’s all you need to do:

  • Pull over to a safe spot – the last thing you want to do is block traffic, unless you absolutely have to.  Pull off into a driveway, turnout, center divider, median, etc.  Put on your emergency flashers – DO NOT PUT ON YOUR BRIGHTS!!!  They will only blind other motorists, causing further crashes!
  • Take a deep breath!  Before you call 9-1-1 or do anything else, take a deep breath or two.  Having a clear head before going into anything remotely scary and stressful is a good idea.
  • Call 9-1-1.  If you’re the only person in your car, either call 9-1-1 yourself or flag down another car and have them call 9-1-1.  If you have another person with you, have them do it.  When whoever has made the call is finished, have them come back to you.  Tell them before they call, “Call 9-1-1 and report back to me!”  Be forceful, but don’t yell.  Just say it in a firm voice.
  • Set flares if you have them.  Flares are visible, and people will slow down when they see them.  Set them strategically – about 100 feet away from the accident (if there is not debris that far).  This will give people enough time to slow down and/or stop.  Setting two flares is good – unless it is at a four-way intersection.  Set one flare for each direction in that case.
  • Go to the car(s) involved.
    • If the occupants of the vehicle(s) involved are still in the car, and cannot get out, do not attempt to open the door for them.  It may be wedged shut, but more importantly, they can be seriously injured.  Look at it this way – if their door is so badly damaged that they can’t get out, don’t try to help them!  They are probably injured, and trying to help them might cause further injury and possibly death.  If they have a spinal injury, and you open the door and pull them out, they could become completely paralyzed.  If you are trained in vehicle extrication, do your thing.  If you haven’t been, try to comfort them.  Oftentimes, a window (or more) has been shattered.  Don’t put your head in – there is loose, sharp glass that is waiting to cut you.  Come into their view of sight, and tell them that help is on the way, and you will be back to check on them in a minute.  Check on them every couple of minutes.
    • If the occupants of the vehicle are out of the vehicle, try to calm them down.  They will be likely be freaked out and hysterical.  It’s scary to avoid an accident, but it is frightening to be in one.  You have to maintain your calm.  Showing signs of being upset will only make matters worse!  Tell them that emergency response is on the way, and that they need to take a deep breath.  Take charge of the situation.
      • In the case of a multiple-vehicle accident, if all of the people involved are able to get out of their cars, get them calm before anything else.  When they are calm, have them exchange insurance, take photos, etc.  Be there to help them.
  • Introduce yourself.  Don’t tell them you are a police officer, firefighter, EMT, EMR, or paramedic unless you are one!  Misrepresenting yourself is bad in any scenario, but lying through your teeth to a scared person is just dumb.  Tell them your name, and that you are here to help.  Talk to them firmly to get your point across.  Don’t be mean or scary.  Just speak to them in a tone of voice you would use when your dog isn’t listening.  Don’t yell, but make yourself heard.  On the opposite side of the spectrum, don’t be nicey-nicey either.  That won’t work.
  • If and when you have time, take some pictures.  You don’t need a lot; just enough to have for the record if it goes to court.
  • Look for anything dripping.  If there is dripping gas, get the occupants OUT OF THEIR VEHICLE!  This can cause a fire – most cars are still running.  If a fire starts, use a fire extinguisher or get people away from the area quickly!  Try to keep the fire from spreading if it starts.  It doesn’t matter if people have spinal injuries – MOVE THEM!  It’s better to be paralyzed than roasted alive.  If it is something red or green, it’s just transmission or radiator fluid.  Neither of these are good, but they won’t easily spark a fire.  Just try to keep hot things away from them.  If there is oil, not the best thing in the world.  It’s probably not going to catch fire, but it’s still a cause for worry.
  • Get somebody to direct traffic.  Flag down another motorist or have your passenger do it.  Let a few cars through at a time.  If people don’t stop, let them go.  You won’t have enough resources to stop them and yell.  Besides, it will do no good.  All it will do is get them angry and possibly start a fight.  You don’t want that.
  • In many cases, a police officer or fire truck will respond to the scene within a matter of a few minutes.  Update them on what happened, give them your name, and ask what you can do to help.  They will be pre-occupied from the moment they get the call, but they will tell you what to do.  Sometimes, you will just stick around and watch, and sometimes you might be able to direct traffic, take cervical-spine precautions on somebody, or do something else that is useful to efforts.  Don’t leave the scene unless you are told to do so.  If you have to go, tell the fire captain/police officer/EMT or paramedic that you have to go.  They will ask you for your phone number so they can ask you what happened later.
  • Above all, keep your cool!

That’s car accident witness 100.

10 thoughts on “What to Do When You Witness an Accident

  1. Helpful post! I was just rearended yesterday and it was comforting to have a witness step forward to offer his name and number, I might not have had my deductible waived if he did not verify the acident.

    1. I’m glad that this was helpful. Sorry that you got rear-ended yesterday – that is a total bummer! It’s good that somebody stepped forward to verify the accident.

  2. Candler you are so right. The person you always remember is the kind civilian that extends themselves when you feel all alone. Thanks for all the great tips.

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