What to Do if You Witness a Car Accident?


Knowing what to do if you witness a car accident can help save lives. The next time you see an accident, remember to do the following:

Stay Calm

Even if you cannot render physical aid, there other ways to help. Take a deep breath, call for help, safely assess the scene, and assist only if it is safe.

Keeping your wits about you is key. Witnessing an accident can be upsetting, even traumatizing. To help, it is essential that you do not panic. Taking a slow, deep breath will help you stay calm and focused.

Being calm and focused will help ensure your own safety and enable you to make better decisions. You will also be able to make a more effective call to 911 so that any accident victims receive help as quickly as possible.

Call for Help

Stop your vehicle safely, somewhere that will not result in a second accident. Park a safe distance from the accident and turn on your hazard lights. Dial 911 to request the aid of first responders.

Never assume that another bystander has already phoned 911.

If you are in an unfamiliar area, look for mile markers, exit signs, or anything that will enable you to give the dispatcher information about your location. Without putting yourself in danger, give the dispatcher as much information as you can about the scene.

Even if  the accident was a minor “fender bender,” involved parties may require immediate medical assistance. Approach any injured victims with caution to ask whether they are OK and listen for a response.

Assess the Scene

If victims sustained severe injuries, waiting with them for help to arrive is a generous gesture. Your mere presence with a victim can comfort him/her until professional help arrives.

This does not mean that you should put yourself in harm’s way. Leave your own automobile only if you can do so safely.

Even if no one was seriously injured, your assessment of the accident scene could prove very useful to investigators in the future. You may wish to note any details. If, for example, the accident was a hit-and-run, record as much information as you can remember about the fleeing automobile.

Your observations of the accident could shed light on otherwise unanswered questions should disputes arise about how the accident occurred.

Mind Your Own Safety

Be mindful that leaking vehicle fluids can be flammable, and that hazards on the scene can expose you to danger. You should also be on the lookout for broken glass.

Do Not Confront Any Involved Parties

In some cases, those who stop to help can find themselves in danger if they decide to confront an obviously intoxicated driver or one who tries to flee the scene. Leave any questioning or law enforcement up to police officers and other trained professionals.

Virginia’s Good Samaritan Law

Thanks to the “Good Samaritan Law,” you do not have to worry about liability for making a good faith, reasonable effort to help. This law encourages citizens to help each other.

Virginia’s law states that a third party who renders emergency care or assistance to an ill or injured person at the scene of an accident, fire, or any life-threatening emergency shall not be liable (except under some extraordinary circumstances) for civil damages for acts or omissions resulting from the rendering of such care or assistance.

However, it is best to leave physical assistance to trained responders. It can be risky to try to render any support other than emotional support to victims unless you have received specific training. We recommend that you do not move an injured party unless remaining in that area would endanger the person further.

Cooperate with First Responders

Responding law enforcement officers may ask you for a statement and your contact information. Providing such information does not make you a suspect or a liable party. It is important that you are honest and stick to the facts. Do not speculate on what either driver was doing before the collision.

You may also eventually receive requests from information from insurance company adjusters, investigators, the parties themselves, or a car accident lawyer for either party. If you have the knowledge that they are seeking, providing it may help resolve any disputed issues.

Seek Follow Up Care for Yourself if You Need It

You have braved a stressful ordeal that most people have not. Witnessing an accident can traumatize bystanders, even if they were not in physical danger. Reach out for help if you find yourself reliving the accident or are preoccupied with its details.

Jim Parrish is a personal injury attorney dedicated to helping accident victims pursue compensation for injuries. If you have questions arising from a motor vehicle accident, call the Parrish Law Firm at 571-229-1800.

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