05 Feb What to Do if You Witness a Car Accident in California
Car accidents are terrifying and often traumatic experiences that can fundamentally reshape one’s outlook on the world. They’re so frightening that you don’t even need to experience one firsthand to comprehend their horror — sometimes, witnessing one is enough.
If you’re an eyewitness to a car accident in California, you’re far from powerless. In a state as populated and sprawling as California, your perception of the situation could make all the difference. However, you might be wondering if it’s safe to stop and administer aid to the injured or provide a statement to law enforcement.
It’s important to remain calm when a crash occurs. Even if you’re just a bystander, you could be in a state of shock, which means your body is processing information in a heightened state, and your senses could deceive you.
First, call emergency services and report the accident to ensure that police and medical personnel are promptly dispatched. Next, assess whether it’s safe to approach the accident scene. If not, you’ll have to wait. If so, do your best to help anyone directly involved.
If possible, gather information about the accident that you can later relay to authorities. Don’t attempt to move anyone who’s visibly injured, as doing so could compound their injuries. Wait for the police to come and provide a witness statement.
The process outlined above can be more complicated than it initially seems. To help you understand how you can maximize your utility as a witness, here’s a more in-depth explanation of what to do if you witness a car accident in California.
Assess the Situation
By simply wondering what to do if you witness a car accident, you’re actually closer to performing the first step than you may realize. That’s because the first thing you should do after witnessing a collision is assess the situation.
Is it safe to approach the crash site? Is anyone injured? Would it be wiser to contact law enforcement and wait? These are all important questions you must ask yourself before springing into action. Your life — and those of the people involved — might depend on it.
How to Safely Approach the Scene
When you witness an accident, it’s important to approach the scene with extreme caution. If you’re in a vehicle, turn on your hazard lights so other drivers know there’s an emergency. You’ll also want to move your car to the side of the road to lessen the chances of another collision. Doing this will make the severity of the situation more apparent to other drivers as they pass.
How to Call 911 and Report the Accident
Call 911 as soon as possible. Stay calm when talking to dispatch, and try to answer their questions to the best of your ability. In this situation, the dispatcher is likely to be very straightforward, which might be jarring or hard to process in your state of shock.
When relaying the details of the accident, stick to the facts and refrain from speculation. If emergency services appear necessary, make sure you let the dispatcher know.
The steps concerning what to do if you witness a car accident are the same whether you witness a minor fender bender or a multi-vehicle pile-up.
If it’s safe to provide assistance, do so right away. In these situations, a little extra help can make all the difference. Here are some things you can do to lend a hand:
- Ask the accident victims if they’re hurt and need assistance
- Offer your cell phone to anyone who needs it to call for help
- Use flairs or lights to block off the accident site if you have an emergency kit in your vehicle
- Try to be a calming influence
Ask those involved if they can move by themselves, but never attempt to move someone who’s visibly injured. Doing so could make their injuries worse.
Although California has a Good Samaritan law, which shields third parties from civil liability for injuries resulting from an attempt to help someone else, it’s always a good idea to wait for the authorities to arrive and then ask the responding medical personnel what you can do to be of use.
Make Sure Others Exit Their Vehicles Safely
If there are victims stuck in their cars, try to shift their vehicles into park, assuming it’s safe to do so. This will ensure that they stay in place and prevent oil leaks and other mechanical hazards.
Again, always make sure the victims can move themselves — don’t try to move them unless their life is in immediate danger. The scene will likely be chaotic, so it’s important to keep a calm demeanor and make sure everyone gets to safety as quickly as possible.
Gathering information about the accident will make a world of difference in terms of helping the victims. If the accident was a hit-and-run, a thorough description of the culprit and their vehicle will permit the victims and their lawyers to hold the guilty party accountable.
Taking Photos of the Accident
No matter the type of accident, you’ll want to take some pictures of the scene. Capture photographic evidence of the collision, the surrounding area, and any physical and property damage. The images you collect will serve as important evidence that might prove or disprove someone’s account of what transpired.
When taking photos, make sure you get both wide shots and close-ups of the accident site and any damage. The wide shots will be important for establishing a visual record of time and place, while the close-ups will be important for assessing the nature and extent of the damage.
Don’t Forget to Take Notes
When it comes to gathering information on vehicles and their owners, you’ll want to take photos alongside notes. Use your phone’s notepad or a good old-fashioned piece of paper if you have one. Many notepad apps let you embed photos so you can keep everything organized in a single location.
Note the Time and Location
When gathering information, be sure to make a note of the time and location, as well as the names and descriptions of all parties involved.
If you’re taking pictures with your phone, it can be helpful to geotag them. Geotagging ensures that your location data and the time of day are embedded in the photo, which can be a huge help during negotiations and litigation.
How to Safely and Politely Obtain Contact Information
As a witness to the accident, it’s important to remember that the victims are likely experiencing more shock than you are. With this in mind, you might have to be the one to obtain the contact information of other responders and witnesses.
This might seem awkward as an uninvolved third party, but it’s a crucial task for which the victims and their attorneys will thank you later.
When approaching other individuals on the scene, always remain cautious and attentive to the little details.
If they seem hostile, jot down a quick description, take a photo, and move on. However, if they’re approachable, get their names, addresses, and phone numbers. You can pass this information on to law enforcement so they can conduct a more intensive investigation.
Cooperate with Authorities
When the police and paramedics arrive on the scene, listen to them and do what they say. Following their instructions is the best thing you can do to impose order and ensure the safety of everyone at the scene, including yourself.
Providing Statements to Law Enforcement
The police will likely be the first group you speak with. They’ll take a preliminary report that requires you to answer questions about what you saw and how you responded. Be as truthful and honest as you can. If you don’t remember something, be candid about your inability to remember.
After you provide a statement, you can request a copy of the accident report by speaking with one of the responding officers. They may direct you to the department’s website, which usually has a section where people can obtain reports when they become available.
Providing Medical Information to Paramedics
When the paramedics arrive, they may ask you questions about the victims, especially if they’re injured and unable to speak. As with talking to the police, make it a point to be honest and forthcoming. Try to remember as many details about the accident as you can, as the details you relate may be what the paramedics need to save someone’s life.
Always ask the paramedics if they need assistance treating anyone who is injured. Even if you just get ice or hold towels, your willingness to help could mean the difference between life and death.
Far too many discussions of what to do if you witness a car accident in California fail to mention the importance of following up. In California, you’re not legally required to stop if you witness an accident. By the same token, you aren’t technically required to follow up unless compelled by the proper authorities.
For example, you may be called to testify as a witness to the accident. If you don’t show up, you could be held in contempt, and a warrant could be issued for your arrest.
The police department might reach out to you for a statement. When they do, make yourself available so you can provide them with the information they need.
Obtain a Copy of the Accident Report
If you forgot to request a copy of the accident report at the time of the incident, you can start the conversation whenever you speak with law enforcement. In fact, speaking with them at a later date might prove more convenient for them, as they won’t be dealing with the immediate aftermath of a vehicular collision.
Seek Counseling if Needed
If witnessing the accident has left you in a state of emotional distress, it’s advisable to seek help. The state of California has a wide range of mental health services available to its residents.
If you’re experiencing a crisis, call 911 and speak with the operator. Otherwise, you can browse the state’s list of resources to learn more about your options.
Contact the Car Accident Lawyers at Law Offices of Steve Gimbin Today
Now that you know what to do if you witness a car accident, it’s important to understand why those actions matter.
Taking action after witnessing a car accident in California is an important civic responsibility. Sharing information based on what you saw could change someone’s life and help minimize their pain and suffering.
Your testimony could prove valuable in any legal proceedings resulting from the accident and in holding those at fault accountable. If the accident involved a hit-and-run, your account of the situation could prevent the perpetrator from remaining free to do it again.
If you or a loved one has been involved in an auto accident, contact the Law Offices of Steve Gimblin. It’s our mission to help you surmount the obstacles posed by your current predicament.
When we represent you in court, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that your case is in the hands of compassionate, experienced attorneys with a thorough understanding of vehicle accident law.
Contact us today to schedule a free initial consultation and let us know how we can help.