It happens so fast. Everyone involved is traumatized, and yet witnesses must keep a calm, cool response. What you do largely depends on how bad the accident, but here are some things to think about that apply to any motor vehicle accident situation. The goal is to be better prepared to help those who were directly involved in the accident until emergency responders can take over.

Ensure your safety first.

If you are driving when the wreck happens, pull over. Maintain a distance of about 100 feet from the scene to give plenty of room for emergency responders, as well as be clear of broken glass, leaking fuel, or fires. Turn on your hazard lights.

Call 911

It’s easy to assume that, since everyone has a cell phone with them, someone has already called. Just call anyway. Even if the wreck doesn’t seem like a catastrophic one, it’s still important to call. Tell the dispatcher you’re a witness, and give all the details about it that you can, such as exact location, number of people involved and the severity of any injuries as far as you can tell, and be on hand with the dispatcher as long as directed.

Check on the victims

First, make sure that it’s safe to approach the scene. You want to be sure you’re safe so you don’t add to the number of people emergency responders will have to attend. If you can offer help, such as CPR or simply laying a coat or blanket over someone who is hurt can do a lot. Reassuring them that help is on the way can be helpful.

Do not move an injured person unless there is a risk of a vehicle catching fire. This is critical. A broken neck or back could be further injured if someone is moved incorrectly.

Remember, this is not the time to assess fault or admit fault.

Stabilize the vehicles (if you can)

If the collision is minor, it’s safe to put the impacted car in park and turn off the ignition. Keeping a car running after its been hit can increase the risk of vehicle fire, especially if there has been a fluid leak which may not be visible. If it’s safe, get some help from unhurt people to push the car to the side of the road, out of the way of traffic. Leave space for emergency responders. If the vehicles are too badly damaged to be moved, set up flares or traffic triangles to warn other drivers of the accident, if needed.

Give a statement and provide your contact information

When the police arrive, remain on scene and answer what questions you can. Leave your contact information with your name and address. After you leave the scene you may be asked by legal and/or medical authorities and insurance claims agents. Just be honest and provide the facts consistently.

Car wrecks are traumatic and upsetting for all involved, victim or bystander. The biggest takeaway if you’re a witness is stay on scene and report what you’ve seen. You are not expected to give aide unless it’s safe to do so, otherwise, stay in your vehicle. As a witness, you play an important role to safely help or protect the victims until emergency responders arrive.

For more information:

State of Washington law on accident reports

Department of Motor Vehicles Accident Guide

Bill Coats Law is here to help you if you’ve been the victim of a car accident. As a Bellingham personal injury attorney with twenty years’ experience, Bill is skilled and able to help you get a fast, full fair claim. Call him at 360-303-0601 or through this form For more about the firm, click here.

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