Witnessing a car accident can leave you with many questions. You could be wondering if you could have done more to help the victims, or ensure you followed the proper procedures. Consult this quick guide to being a car accident witness for some dos and don’ts for the scene.
• DON’T feel like you must stop. The law does not require you to stop at the scene of an accident. However, most people feel it is the right thing to do.
• DO make sure you are in a safe place after you witness an accident. If you are a pedestrian, you must stay in pedestrian areas like sidewalks. Even medians and shoulders can be dangerous if traffic continues to pass by. If you are a driver, pull your vehicle to the side of the road, ensure rescue vehicles have room to navigate, and turn on your flashers or distribute hazard markers. Stay a safe distance from the scene unless you are rendering aid to victims.
• DO dial 911. Even if you are unsure of the extent of the injuries of the parties involved, if vehicle damage has taken place, the police will make a report. Give as much detail as you can regarding your location and the nature of the accident.
• DON’T rush into the scene. Sometimes, your assistance will be helpful, but make sure you are not in danger of injury yourself due to broken glass and sharp metal. If you choose to enter the scene and render aid to victims, do so cautiously.
• DON’T offer medical assistance unless necessary. It is best to wait for emergency personnel to arrive on-scene. It often takes only a matter of minutes for EMTs to arrive, and most first aid situations can wait.
• DO offer other forms of assistance. Perhaps victims could use a kind word, a cell phone to call relatives or insurance companies, or a paper and pen to exchange information. Offer what you feel you would need if in the shoes of the victims.
• DON’T fear liability. In the event that help has not arrived and someone is in urgent need of first aid you know you can handle, Texas has Good Samaritan laws in place. As long as you are rendering emergency aid in good faith, you are not likely to be liable for civil damages.
• DO exercise caution. Accident scenes are often tense situations. Property has occurred, and tempers and emotions can run high. While the presence of a witness may help keep emotions in check, be careful when inserting yourself into the situation. Keep your own safety in mind, primarily.
• DON’T allow a driver to leave the scene without exchanging information. You do not need to physically restrain a driver – see the above note about keeping yourself safe – but it is good practice to jot down identifying characteristics and license plate numbers. If an at-fault driver attempts to leave the scene, you can remind them of the consequences of doing so and record their vehicle and license plate description.
• DO cooperate with police. If you have chosen to stop and witnessed the accident itself, provide every detail you can to the police. Stay on the scene until your statement is complete and police have released you to continue traveling.
Overall, many people choose to stop and help when they witness a car accident. Keeping these tips in mind can help ensure you are doing what you can for the victims and police while keeping yourself safe from harm. You are not necessarily a medical professional, a mechanic, or a police officer, but Good Samaritans can provide some help and may even save a life. Just remember your own limitations and leave the tough work to the emergency personnel.