Staying Alive: What to Do — and Not Do — After a Crash
Police and emergency responders weigh in on the biggest missteps and the best course of action after an accident.
An auto crash can be a frightening and perilous experience, but the danger does not end at impact. Doing the right things immediately after an accident can also save your life, or save you from a lot of headaches after the fact.
Amelia Hernandez-Garcia's fatal mistake is one that many motorists make.
On Feb. 23, she got out of her car after it became disabled in the westbound center lane of Interstate 40 in Raleigh, N.C., and stood in the open roadway. Another motorist stopped in the middle of the interstate to help. Hernandez-Garcia, 34, exited her vehicle and asked to use his phone, at which time another vehicle struck the good Samaritan's car, throwing Hernandez-Garcia into the left lane, where yet another vehicle hit her. She died at the scene.
This tragedy illustrates the extreme danger that some motorists put themselves in after a wreck or breakdown.
"Don't get out of the cars and stand around," says Sgt. Scott Olson, who heads up traffic enforcement for the Minneapolis Police Department. "Secondary accidents happen all the time at these crashes."
Reviews: Find expert and user reviews
They happen so often that not a day goes by in the United States without an emergency first responder getting struck by an inattentive motorist, says Skip Kirkwood, chief of the Wake County Department of Emergency Medical Services in North Carolina. "If we have to operate at the scene of a wreck on the highway, we have taken to putting 40,000-pound firetrucks between us and oncoming traffic, just to keep the firefighters and paramedics from getting killed."
Had Hernandez-Garcia and the good Samaritan moved to a safe area away from traffic and then called 911, this tragedy might have been avoided. But stressful situations often make it hard to know what to do.
With that in mind, we've compiled some do's and don'ts for motorists involved in a collision or a breakdown, based on feedback from police and other emergency responders. Following these steps can minimize the stress, complications and sheer danger that follow an accident.
Call 911, Answer Questions, Get Off the Phone
Even if your collision is minor, call 911 — not 411 — says Sgt. Daniel Bates, who supervises the Collision Reconstruction Unit of the New York State Police. Calling 411 might route you to the state police headquarters' main dispatch point, rather than to the nearest precinct, which makes it more difficult to determine the location of the accident.
Once on the phone with a 911 dispatcher, answer all the questions. "911 centers have an interrogation procedure they use to get everything they need in one call," Kirkwood says. "A lot of times, people want to call them and tell them what they want to tell them, not what they need to know."
Once the call is over, stay off the phone so you can focus on what's unfolding at the scene and answer questions from police and other emergency responders.
In Minor Collisions, Move Out of Traffic and Get Information
In accidents with negligible property damage and without fatalities or serious injuries, move the vehicles off the roadway or as far over to the side and out of the way of traffic as possible. This reduces the likelihood of secondary collisions and minimizes traffic jams.
Snap a few pictures with a cell-phone camera if you're concerned about documenting the scene. But get the vehicles out of the way.
If damage from the wreck falls below a certain threshold, neither the police nor those involved are required to submit an accident report to the department of motor vehicles. Each state sets its own threshold for the amount of property damage that requires a report.
But even if you do call the police, go ahead and exchange information with other motorists involved — there's no need to wait for the authorities to arrive as long as the scene is safe. Bates recommends jotting down notes of what happened and seeking out witnesses to get contact information for those willing to go on the record with what they saw.
Must-See on MSN
If you're in an accident, do this:
1. MOVE YOUR VEHICLES OUT OF THE WAY! The shoulder is there for a reason.
2. Stay calm.
3. Exchange information
4. Call the police (some states REQUIRE this)
5. Stay at the scene
6. Take pictures of the damage with your cellular phone.
7. Tell the responding police your story.
"But even if you do call the police, go ahead and exchange information with other motorists involved — there's no need to wait for the authorities to arrive as long as the scene is safe.''
- That is moronic advice since leaving the scene of an accident is considered a crime in most states (and all other countries), especially if you have called the police. Wait for the cop, or get permission to leave from the police dispatcher or you are going to get screwed.
Danny I think you have misread the full statement. What the statement was meaning is that you do not need to wait for the police to arrive to exchange the information. Not that they are to leave the scene.
It does leave you scarred and scared, both physically and emotionally. I still wake up at night seeing the oncoming pickup truck headed straight for me, with essentially no time to react. I was doing 45 mph speed limit. he was estimated at 65 MPH. It's been a he!! of a time since, trying to put thing back together as I have not been able to work other than a few hours a week at best, and not being disabled 'enough' to collect disability.