What could you have done?

It isn’t just snowstorms and slick rain that can cause automobile accidents.  It can involve anything from a blown tire to an errant deer; it can involve a drunk driver or a distracted driver or a careless driver or a driver that can’t move out of the way.

Next thing you know, someone’s in a ditch or off the road.

Now I hope that none of you will ever experience anything like that in your lifetimes – but it does happen.  And if it doesn’t happen to you, it will happen to someone you know and it will happen to someone today.

But what happens if you see an accident occurring right in front of you – not one where you’re directly involved, but one where someone gets run off the road or someone loses control of their car and crashes?

Do this.  Do any of these things.

1. If the accident just happened and you can get off the road safely, do so.  Park your car in a safe area, preferably about 6-8 car lengths away from the accident so that rescue vehicles can park safely near the accident.  Assess the situation.  Keep a calm head.  The driver and passengers are going through a tremendous amount of shock and trauma and confusion.  You don’t yet know if anyone needs CPR, and if you’re not a trained paramedic, anything you think you’re doing “as trying to help” could cause more injury and more damage to the victims.  All you’re doing right now is assessing the situation and making a phone call.

2. Call 911.  Remember what road you’re on.  Remember if it’s eastbound or westbound, a highway or a country road.  Remember what mile marker you’re at if you can, or if there’s a notable business nearby, like a restaurant or a motel.  Saying to someone, “I’m on 787 somewhere between Albany and Troy” won’t help anyone.  You can call 911 from the scene of the accident, or if you can’t immediately stop, you can call 911 while you’re driving by the accident.  Someone has to call that number for an emergency services team to arrive at the accident.  Don’t just assume that the paramedics or the troopers will automatically know when and where an accident occurred.  And don’t assume that someone else will call 911.  Better to have too many calls to that location than none at all.

3. Once the police and paramedics arrive, answer their questions and stay out of their way.  Let them do their job.  They’re trained for things like this.  Stay nearby in case they have a question as to how the accident occurred.

4. If you see someone getting run off the road by another vehicle, and that other vehicle is just speeding down the highway like nothing happened, call 911 and report the hit-and-run vehicle.  Give as much information as possible – make and model of the car, license plate, color of the vehicle.

5. Always keep a throwaway “fun-saver” film camera in your car’s glove box.  If there’s any sort of accident involving a skid or a crash, photos at the scene may help an insurance investigator determine damage claims.  Take a roll of pictures of whatever you see there – the crash damage, tire skidmarks, what’s left of Bambi’s father.  The police will want to see these photos.  So will the insurance companies.

6. Whatever you do, stay safe.  If you can’t park safely on the side of the road or highway, call 911 and let the paramedics and police do the rescuing.

7. There may not be any injuries – the car may have some damage, but the passengers are all right – but they’re shaken up and confused and scared.  As long as nobody’s completely injured (i.e., you don’t see any bones sticking out of skin and nobody’s unconscious), even the act of talking to an accident victim can help calm them down and let them know that everything will be fine.

8. You should familiarize yourself with New York’s version of the Good Samaritan Law.  According to Heart Safe America, the Good Samaritan Law protects non-trained individuals who offer emergency assistance to a victim of a car crash.  If the car’s on fire and you see someone trapped inside, and you don’t think help will arrive in time, then you have to make your own choice in the situation.  But no matter what, the safety of everyone involved – the accident victims, the other motorists on the highway, yourself – is of utmost importance.

This AOL link also offers tips on what you should do if you witness a car accident.

Whatever you do – do something.  Don’t just drive by and assume someone else will call in the accident.

It’s the difference between what could you do – and what could you have done.