Last week I saw two car accidents. One I stopped to help, the other I couldn’t get to. Seeing two in a week is a lot, but chances are sooner or later you will see an accident happen in front of you. The decision to help or not is up to you, but I try to help as much as possible (what goes around comes around). Here are some things to think about if you are going to help someone else in a traffic accident.
Call for help. Don’t assume someone else has already called. If you can’t call, tell someone else to call. Chances are pretty good that you won’t be the only one that stopped to help. Make sure more help is on the way before you continue.
Your first concern has to be your safety. You can’t help anyone if you are hit by another car driving by. An old cop gave me some great advise for directing traffic that applies here, “assume you are invisible and no one sees you.” If you are standing in the roadway where cars drive, someone will hit you. Make sure you and your vehicle are out of the way of other motorist. If you have to stand in lane to help, put your vehicle blocking the lane and turn your wheels away from where you plan to be. This way someone has to go through your car to hit you, and if someone is looking at the accident and rear-ends your car it should (in theory) turn away from you.
Next look at ensuring the safety of those involved in the accident. Again you can use your vehicle to block traffic from running into the smashed cars or running over the person if they are lying in the road. It’s been my experience the most needed thing to ensure the safety of those involved is to tell them to get out of the road. People will do quite a few crazy things after an accident because they aren’t thinking straight. The two things I’ve seen a bunch are the people want to stand in the roadway and look at the damage to their vehicle. For some reason it doesn’t bother them that they are standing in the middle of the freeway with cars flying by at 70 MPH. The other thing I see is someone standing behind the accident trying to direct traffic around his or her disabled car. For either of these situations, stand in a safe place and tell the person involved to get out of the road or to come talk to you. I’ve done both with a command voice and every time people listen to me. They just don’t know what to do after an accident and are in a state of disbelief.
Once everyone seems safe, ask everyone if there are any other people in the vehicles. If someone is suffering from a head injury they might not remember that their friend was in the back seat. If those involved won’t/can’t answer questions, look for yourself. Remember to look out for your safety.
If people are still in vehicles, look hurt or can’t get out of the car by themselves, and there isn’t any immediate danger (like the car is on fire), encourage them to stay put. A couple reassuring words will go a long way. Try to stop other from “helping them” out of the car. If someone isn’t getting out on their own there could have major injuries. If they are moved improperly it could be life threatening or cause permanent damage.
If you find multiple injuries that look bad, call 911 back and tell them what you see. If your hands are busy helping someone don’t stop, have someone else call 911 and describe what you see. The operator is going to need how many people are involved, how bad the injuries are, and if the road is blocked for emergency vehicles. After that they will start asking you questions, if you are not busy actively helping someone, answer the questions.
When help arrives, give them a quick overview of what you know. It needs to be short (like 2 sentences). Example, there are four people hurt, the worst is this one with… the others have… Then wait. The emergency personnel will tell you if they need anything else.
If you can, stick around to answer more questions and give a witness statement. The cop will just ask you what you saw. If it’s a minor accident it doesn’t matter. If it’s a major accident where people were hurt, the police will have many questions. If you have to leave and still want to help give the cop one of your business cards, or just write down your name, phone number, and “Witness” on a piece of paper and give it to the cop. If you have to leave, watch out for cops asking for your driver’s license. No they aren’t going to write you a ticket or charge you with anything, they just know you won’t leave without your license. If you are going to help the police with their investigation/report, be patient. It takes forever to figure what happened at a traffic accident.