What To Do After Witnessing a Car Accident

Remembering to follow some advice you read on the Internet about how to handle a dangerous situation is about as difficult as herding cats. There's a scientific reason for that, but I'm not going to bore you with details about your brain's hypothalamus, cortisol or how adrenaline gives you superhuman vigour and energy.
Car crash cartoon 1 photo
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That being said, I'm going to focus on what you should do in the unfortunate but likely event that you witness an accident. As you probably know, the more time you spend driving, the more car crashes you're destined to experience, whether as a witness or... well, you get the point.

Some people only slow down to take photos or videos to fuel their own (and other people's) schadenfreude, but not you. You are better than that even for just stopping and reading this article. Unfunny jokes aside, there aren't too many rules to follow after you witness an accident, but that doesn't make it less likely for you to botch everything further by taking the wrong decisions.

Basic human decency and courtesy require you to help people in need any way that you can, but in the heat of the moment you may also do more harm than good. The following advice and rules may not be set in stone, but they will surely help you and everyone else involved in not having a worse day than it already is.

Hazard lights and braking

Putting on your hazards should be the very first thing you do, before slowing down but especially before taking out your phone - to either snap pictures or call emergency services. Some modern cars automatically turn on their hazard lights when braking hard, but don't rely on that.

Assess the situation you're in as fast as possible, push the button with an orange triangle on it and only then start slowing down. That way, drivers coming behind you will theoretically realize that something is up and hopefully do the same instead of plowing into you and creating a pileup. You can also tap the brake pedal a couple of times before starting to slow down to make your car as visible as possible.

After slowing down to a halt, make sure your car has left enough room for ambulances, fire trucks and/or oncoming traffic. If the accident victims are right in the middle of the road you may also park your car as a shield directly in front of them, but only if the hazard lights are still on, and there is enough visibility so that the car doesn't become a dangerous obstacle for the oncoming drivers.

This is obviously a case-by-case scenario, so use your better judgement before stopping in the middle of traffic. Normally, you should park the car as far away from the accident as possible and ideally off the road to protect you and your passengers.

Exiting the car and evaluating the situation

Either during the day, night or poor visibility conditions, it would be a good idea to have a high visibility jacket on hand just in case the unexpected happens. If it's foggy or night time and you get out of your car dressed like Batman you're obviously at risk, but not because of The Joker or Bane, but because other drivers won't be able to see you. So either wear something flashy when on the open road or keep a high-visibility jacket or vest inside the car for these types of situations.

Also, an important point after exiting the car involves smoking. Whatever you do, don't light up a cigarette to calm down near the scene of the accident, since fuel and gas leaks are a pretty good recipe for disaster near an open flame.

It's perfectly normal for your heart to start racing, so me telling you to calm down in this article will have little to no effect. That said, try to take control of your emotions at your own pace and only after that you can start looking for where the accident victims are and assess their conditions. When you believe that everyone is accounted for, call for emergency services (112 in the European Union and a few other selected countries or the more well-known 911 in North America).

Calling emergency services and actually helping the victims

By this time, you should be a little bit more relaxed, so try to be concise but informative when calling for emergency services. Tell the operator stuff like location or at least the general area where the crash has happened – use your car's or phone's GPS app before calling if you're not entirely sure – how many victims there are and their overall condition.

If the accident happened before you had arrived at the scene it might also be helpful to round up the other witnesses and find out more details beforehand. The operator should know if anyone's bleeding, if they are unconscious, without a pulse or if there's a fire so that he/she can send the proper emergency vehicles.

Speaking of fires, it would be a good idea to always carry a small flame extinguisher in your vehicle at all times, one that you should be ready to use if the situation requires it.

Unless you're a trained doctor or EMT, do not perform any medical procedure on the victims or try and move them away from the vehicles involved in the crash. This is also a case-by-case scenario, depending for example if the victim is in the middle of traffic, or in a burning car, but if you're not sure of how to help it's probably best to wait for the professionals.

In most states, you could be held liable in court if something you did to the victim caused more harm than good, no matter what your original intentions were. The fact that you stopped and called for help is the minimum recommended course of action, everything else you do can either help or create more problems, so choose wisely while you wait for the emergency services.

After the professionals arrive

Now that the cavalry is here try to assist them in any way possible, but obviously without obstructing them. Have your words ready to brief the paramedics about the victims' status and location and the firemen about any fires or if any of the victims is trapped inside a car. It would also be a good idea to have snapped as many pictures or videos as possible by now, either with a camera or your smartphone – not as schadenfreude but to assist law enforcement and the drivers involved in understating how the accident happened.

Be prepared to hand over any photo or video evidence to the police, and also be ready to be called as a witness. Only leave the accident scene after checking with the police if you have permission to leave - remember you're part of the whole situation now.

The only thing left to do in the end is drive safely to your destination, exit your car and find a place with friends where you can open a cold one and impress everyone with your heroic actions, you deserve the recognition.
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About the author: Alex Oagana
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Alex handled his first real steering wheel at the age of five (on a field) and started practicing "Scandinavian Flicks" at 14 (on non-public gravel roads). Following his time at the University of Journalism, he landed his first real job at the local franchise of Top Gear magazine a few years before Mircea (Panait). Not long after, Alex entered the New Media realm with the project.
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