While the majority of people know what to do when they’re involved in an accident, few consider what they ought to do if they witness one. Should you stop? Are you legally obligated to? Can an ordinary person help or are they at risk of making it worse? Should you just drive by and call it in to the police?
1. If you witness an accident – not just the aftermath –the first thing you need to do is call 9-1-1 to report the accident and tell the police what you saw, particularly if you are first at the scene. Report as much detail as you can.
2. Stopping to help is a judgement call. If you choose to stop and help, do not pull over unless and until you can do so safely – your safety is your primary concern, particularly on a highway. Police recommend you exit the highway and find a safe place to stop to minimize the risk to yourself.
3. While you do not have a legal obligation to stay at the scene, if you witness an accident, your assistance and statement are extremely important. Those involved in the accident may need your help, both in the moment and in the future. More importantly, the victims of the crash may require your assistance in calling the police or their relatives, but don’t rush into the scene – there may be hazards that can cause you injury as well. Stay clear of a smoking vehicle, broken glass, sharp metal edges, etc.
4. Speak to those involved in the accident and make sure you provide them with your name and contact information.
5. Do your best to write down what you saw as soon as possible. Make detailed notes of the following:
- The make, model colour and licence plate numbers of all vehicles involved
- The number of people involved in the accident – both drivers and passengers
- Whether the people involved have any visible injuries
- Where the accident occurred
- The color of the traffic lights at the time of the accident if the accident occurred near an intersection
- The weather conditions
6. Only offer medical assistance if you are qualified to do so. Otherwise, leave it to the professionals.
7. Your testimony may be required. Accident victims may need to file a Personal Injury claim to receive compensation for the pain and injuries they suffered. In order to make a claim, they will need to be able to clearly establish who was at fault. If the only two people providing statements are those who were involved in the accident themselves, it becomes difficult to determine fault. If you are the only witness to an accident, your statement may be instrumental in establishing who was at fault.
8. Remain at the scene of the accident until emergency responders arrive. If the victims are injured, they may need your support until the responders arrive to help.
9. Cooperate with the police and provide them with details of what you made note of so that they can include your observations in their report. Stay on the scene until your statement is complete and police have released you to continue traveling.
10. Be aware that an Insurance Adjuster may contact you. If so, stick to the facts and avoid conjecture, as your statements could potentially create a distortion of what happened and interfere with an investigation and/or jeopardize a Personal Injury claim. Remain as objective and credible as possible.
In general, people often choose to stop and help when they witness a car accident. These tips help keep you safe from harm while you are assisting victims and the police. Even if all you did was offer a kind word, emotional support and an eye witness account of what happened to the authorities, your presence is often enough to keep victims calm during a painful and frightening experience. Your testimony can be crucial evidence in establishing the facts of a legal case, and you deserve to feel good about stopping to help instead of driving past the scene.