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Witnessing a car accident can be frightening and traumatic. It also puts you in a unique position, as the actions you take immediately afterward could save a life—but they could also put your own life in danger.
When it comes to assisting after a crash, it is normal and kind to want to administer aid and help victims as best you can. But that means doing it as safely and responsibly as possible. That can be difficult to do when your adrenaline is pumping, especially if you’ve never assisted after a crash before or if you don’t know what to do. If helping can’t be done safely and responsibly, leave it to the professionals.
If you ever witness a crash, keep these tips in mind to be an effective Good Samaritan.
The first and most important step to take after witnessing a crash is to call 911. Never assume that someone else has already dialed 911, even if there are other witnesses nearby. When speaking with the 911 dispatcher, tell them where the crash occurred and how many vehicles are involved. Stay on the line until the dispatcher tells you that you can hang up, as they may need additional information from you.
When calling 911, do so from a safe location. If you were driving when you witnessed the crash, pull over to a safe spot like a parking lot or the shoulder of the road. If you can’t pull over a safe distance away from traffic, don’t exit your vehicle to call 911. You’re safer inside your vehicle while you speak with the dispatcher.
Many Good Samaritans are seriously injured and even killed while attempting to reach car accident victims, especially when they need to cross busy highways and interstates to get to them. Keep in mind that other motorists don’t always stop simply because a crash occurred nearby, and they will often continue on their way at high speeds in adjacent lanes rather than moving over.
In addition, don’t attempt to stop or direct traffic yourself. After you call 911, police officers will be dispatched to the scene. These officers can help stop and redirect traffic by using their patrol cars’ flashing lights, traffic cones, road signs, and hand signals. They also may have high-visibility vests.
If it’s safe to do so, you can set up flares and traffic triangles, which are part of many vehicles’ emergency kits, to alert other drivers of the crash, especially when visibility is limited or reduced such as at night or in bad weather.
If you’re able to safely reach the crash scene without putting yourself in danger, ensure that the affected vehicles are stabilized and not at risk of moving or rolling away. If the drivers are awake and capable of doing so, ask them to put their vehicles in park and to turn off their engines. If they’re unconscious or too injured to do so themselves, turn off their ignitions yourself if it’s possible to do so.
By putting damaged vehicles in park, you reduce the risk that they roll into traffic or injure first responders. And by turning off their engines, you reduce the risk of a fire or even an explosion, which can both happen when a vehicle’s engine is heavily damaged.
Your first instinct upon reaching a crash scene is likely to aid the victims any way you can. But the best way to aid them is to call for help and to let trained medical providers treat their injuries. Giving victims water and reassuring them while you both wait for emergency responders to arrive is the best way to assist.
Never attempt to move victims, especially when they’re unconscious or seriously injured. Moving victims can put them at risk of further injuries, especially if they hurt their backs, necks, or spinal cords during the accident. The only time you should attempt to move a victim is if their life is in immediate danger, such as from a potential or actual vehicle fire.
After a crash, you may be approached by a police officer and victims. As a neutral third-party witness, your description of what happened can play a major role in determining who was at fault and who may be eligible to pursue compensation.
When describing what you saw, stick to the facts. It’s okay if you don’t remember everything or if you can’t answer every question the police officer asks you. Give your name and phone number to the police officer and victims if they ask for it and be prepared to be contacted by insurance companies and lawyers representing the drivers in the days, weeks, and months ahead.
At Nurenberg, Paris, Heller & McCarthy, we help injured auto accident victims get the compensation they’re owed every day. However, we can’t do it alone. A big part of our success comes from witness statements provided by people who assisted after crashes and who volunteered to tell police officers, insurers, and our legal team exactly what happened.
If you’re ever involved in a crash, our lawyers will work hard to help you with your financial recovery—and that includes contacting anyone who saw the crash happen. Contact our Ohio auto accident lawyers right away after a crash that wasn’t your fault. We want to put our experience to work for you.
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