- If the Accident is Major, Call 911 Immediately: You need not provide an elaborate description, and caution is advised in providing your own assessment of who was at fault unless specifically asked for this information by an officer of the law. You should keep it simple: give the operator the location of the accident, the number of vehicles involved, and (if you can determine) whether anyone is injured. They should be able to take it from there.
- Don’t Move Any Injured People Unless Absolutely Necessary: This is especially true if you’re not trained to handle such situations. You have no idea the extent of the injuries the person suffered in the accident, and moving them could worsen their injuries. Your kind act could end up being the reason you’re later named in a lawsuit. However, a scenario where it might be absolutely necessary to move a person might include one where the vehicle is on fire and you have decided you can approach the vehicle safely.
- Use Caution if Approaching the Vehicle: Unless you’re certain the scene is now safe and traffic has either stopped or a secure detour has been established around the accident, you should remain in your vehicle or a safe area. It is critical you ensure your own safety first. Failure to assess the situation could end up in more serious injuries and eliminate your ability to provide assistance. Also realize that the more catastrophic the accident appears, the more likely it is there could be flames, fire, or combustibles. Regardless of the apparent severity of the accident, you should always be aware of the risk of fire and explosion and pay special attention to the smell or sight of fire or smoke.
- Keep the Scene Clear: If you witness the accident or are one of the first people to arrive at the scene, a logical tactic is to pull entirely off the road and put on your flashers to make it easier for emergency personnel to locate and advance upon the scene. Even in so doing, be sure to keep a safe distance.
- If Possible to do Safely, Assist the Drivers in Moving their Vehicles from Traffic Lanes: If the vehicle is not so damaged as to render it completely immobile, and the driver indicates he or she is willing and able to move it, assist the driver of the wrecked vehicle in moving the car out of the traffic lane. DO NOT drive the vehicle yourself unless instructed to do so by a police officer or emergency worker. DO NOT rely on the word of the driver of the wrecked vehicle.
- Don’t Chase Fleeing Drivers: Whether in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, if someone is involved in a motor vehicle accident they have an obligation to remain on the scene. However, if you witness a hit-and-run accident, DO NOT FOLLOW/CHASE the driver. Do your best to get the car’s license plate number. If you can’t, pick out details about the vehicle (make, model, color, etc.) and the direction the vehicle went after fleeing the scene.
You were fortunate. Whether major or minor, yours was not one of the vehicles involved in the car accident which occurred right before your eyes. However, just because you escaped property damage or injury doesn’t mean you should proceed without caution or let your emotions outweigh logic. So, with that backdrop, below are some thoughts to keep in mind if you are a witness to a motor vehicle accident.