A couple of months ago, I saw a news article about a car crash that had resulted in two fatalities. Sad, but nothing out of the ordinary, right? The difference with this accident was that both fatalities were good Samaritans who got electrocuted by downed power lines when they ran to assist to the accident victims. If you had been there, would you have instinctively run to help the occupants of the vehicle, or would you take time to assess the situation?
Since you and I weren’t there, it would be wrong to speculate on what happened, but there is a general word of advice to anyone responding to an emergency: If you get taken out of the fight, you’re no good to anyone.
While I frequently focus on wilderness survival, urban survival is also a big part of my daily work at CampingSurvival.com. With that in mind, I thought you might find it helpful to have some general tips about situational awareness in the event you witness a car wreck:
- If you’re the first person to arrive at the crash, don’t stop in the middle of the road. Move your car completely off the road at a safe distance from the accident scene, as not to endanger anyone or cause secondary accidents, and turn on your hazard lights.
- Grab your phone and check for traffic before exiting your vehicle. Assess the number of vehicles and see if anyone is injured. Don’t touch them, but let them know you’re there to help.
- Dial 911 and calmly explain the situation, including your exact location, the number of vehicles, the severity of the crash, and the number and type of injuries.
- If there are people who are injured but walking, escort them to safety and have them sit down. They may be disoriented and will be a greater danger to themselves if they are wandering around.
- Unless there is immediate danger of fire or explosion, don’t move injured people who cannot move themselves. You could worsen their injuries.
- If you are comforting an injured person until help arrives, don’t say anything that could scare them, like “you’re really gushing blood” or “don’t die on me!” The best thing you can do is to remain calm, remind them that help is on the way and you’ll stay with them.
- Similarly, don’t comment on other people’s injuries to a person you’re comforting, especially if there’s a fatality, nor should you say “everything is going to be fine,” if you know it’s not. If your victim asks about the status of someone else in the car, just reply that medical help is on the way and they’ll help everyone to the best of their ability.
- When police or fire personnel arrive, be ready to provide a full account of exactly what you saw and who might need treatment first. Don’t speculate on anything you didn’t actually witness, though. If you arrived after the crash happened, you will only muddy the waters by offering opinions on what MIGHT have happened.
Obviously, these are suggestions and not rules, so use your head: If a crashed tanker truck is spewing toxic vapors, you could be dead within a minute of running into that cloud. A situation like this killed a state trooper just a few years ago. It would be better to stay at a safe distance and advise the 911 operator of the situation so that fire crews can be ready. (A good friend of mine keeps an OSHA manual in his glove compartment just in case he needs to identify a tanker truck by its markings.)
Of course, if it’s just a minor fender bender of a car accident and nobody is injured, it’s probably best to get the damaged cars off to the side of the road and out of the way of approaching traffic.
Some people say that you should never stop to help car accident victims out of fear of a lawsuit, but many states have laws on the books to help protect a Good Samaritan who renders assistance. Personally, I couldn’t live with myself if I passed a serious accident and didn’t try to help the victims, but that’s just me. Ultimately, you have to do what’s in your comfort zone, but if you maintain your situational awareness and keep a level head, you’ll be the most effective help for people in need.