What to do When You’ve Witnessed a Car Accident

If you’ve witnessed a car accident, there are some important ways you can help. Your swift actions can identify hit-and-run drivers. Or help police determine who was at fault. Or even save a life.

Does Washington State law require witnesses to stay at the scene?

There is no Washington State law requiring witnesses to stay at a car accident scene. However, if you can safely pull over, you may be able to offer valuable aid to those involved. If you can’t stop, you can still help by calling 911 and reporting what happened.

Should witnesses offer medical assistance?

If you can offer medical assistance to accident victims, you can certainly do so. However, if anyone appears injured, calling 911 should be your first step.

Depending on your background or training, here are a few ways you could care for victims until help arrives:

  • Initiate CPR
  • Apply a tourniquet to stop bleeding
  • Offer blankets or clothing
  • Help keep the victim calm or still

In general, it’s best to not attempt to move an injured victim, unless there is an immediate threat of fire or explosion.

Some people might worry about what happens if you try to help a crash victim but end up hurting them worse. Thankfully, we have what’s known as a Good Samaritan law in Washington State. This law protects people who render care in an emergency from being sued.

How can witnesses be most helpful to first responders?

Without a doubt, witnesses can offer valuable, objective insight about a motor vehicle accident. For that reason, police and firefighters will be eager to talk to you. However, your behavior at the scene could help or hinder their work.

Here are some best practices to keep in mind:

  • Park your car away from the accident. When your car remains too close to the accident, first responders may think you are involved. Further, it’s important to create enough space for emergency vehicles to access the scene.
  • Identify yourself as a witness. When approached by police or fire, clearly state that you are a witness. Make sure to follow any instructions provided.
  • Let first responders take the lead. Remember the first responders are trained to secure a scene and render aid.
  • Make sure you know when you can leave. Before leaving the scene, check in with police or fire to make sure they have all the information they need from you.

Most of all, be mindful of how your actions are contributing to the scene of the crash. Do all you can to be as helpful to those trying to assist the victims and your presence will be appreciated.

What happens when a witness makes a statement for a police report?

When you identify yourself as an eyewitness of a car accident, the police will most likely ask for your statement.

They will ask you to provide:

  • Your name
  • Your contact information
  • Factual statement about what happened

You may be asked a few clarifying questions or asked to provide additional information. You do not need to speculate who was at fault. Simply stick to the facts of what you remember.

How could a witness be involved in the days after an accident?

Depending on the situation, you may be asked for more information or help following an accident.

For instance, you could:

  • Be called by the victim’s car accident lawyer
  • Receive follow-up contact from law enforcement
  • Receive a subpoena to appear in court

While this may seem stressful, remember that your testimony may prove vitally important for those involved and that you are not in trouble. Always respond promptly and truthfully to any inquiry.

How should I handle the trauma I witnessed at an accident scene?

Witnessing an accident or its aftermath can take a toll on your mental health. It’s not uncommon for witnesses to experience anxiety, depression, or even PTSD. This is more likely if there was a fatality or you’ve previously experienced trauma.

Here are a few steps you can take to prioritize your self-care in the days following an accident:

  • Talk to someone
  • Avoid alcohol or drugs
  • Keep your routines
  • Get plenty of exercise
  • Engage in activities that reduce stress

Additionally, you might find value in seeking the help of a mental health therapist.

Witnesses can make a big difference for accident victims!

No one wants to be a witness to a car accident. But statistically speaking, most of us will be at some point in our lives. A witness can make a huge difference for an accident victim – we see it every day in our work as injury attorneys.

Please contact us any time you have been hurt in a car accident in the Puget Sound area and need legal assistance.

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