Before 1st Responders Arrive
In the immediate aftermath of a motor vehicle collision people may be injured or disoriented. It is important to be mindful of your actions, and how those actions may help or hinder first-responders. There are steps that you can take where conditions permit to protect yourself and your passengers after a wreck, and preserve important evidence. The steps you can take, in order of priority, are as follows:
1. Assess Safety
Immediately after a collision, assess your surroundings and safety at the location where your vehicle has come to rest. Is the vehicle in a location where there is a risk of additional impacts? Are the vehicles visible to approaching motorists? Is the actual vehicle safe for continued occupancy (i.e., no risk of fire, flooding, or electricity exposure)?
If the vehicle can safely be moved, move your vehicle off the roadway to avoid blocking traffic. Where a vehicle is too damaged to be movable, turn on your hazard lights to be more visible to approaching vehicles.
If at all possible, you and your passengers should remain in the vehicle. Only if the vehicle itself is unsafe should you attempt to remove yourself or your passengers prior to first-responders arriving. Note that many airbags use a small, controlled explosion to inflate the bag when they deploy. This device can cause smoke or a burning smell to be present in the interior cabin of the vehicle after a wreck. Take care not to mistake this for an active fire.
Under no circumstances should any driver leave the scene of a collision.
2. Assess Injuries
After determining that your vehicle is safe in its present location, determine whether you or your passengers have injuries requiring medical attention. You do not want to make a serious injury worse by unnecessarily moving yourself or an injured passenger without appropriate help. If there is any question about an injury, and you can safely remain in the vehicle until help arrives, then maintain your position.
3. Notify Authorities of Collision & Wait
If you have the ability to call 911, you should do so. If you are aware of any injuries requiring medical attention, be sure to request medical personnel in addition to law enforcement. You should remain in your vehicle until first responders arrive whenever possible.
There are two reasons for remaining in your vehicle. First, you will have better protection from secondary impacts inside your vehicle. More importantly, staying in the vehicle minimizes the potential for negative interactions with the other driver(s) or passenger(s) involved. Heightened emotions at the scene can lead to accusations, verbal confrontations, and even physical violence. Moreover, even where physical confrontations aren’t a risk, you may inadvertently say something to damage your case.
Always strive to be polite, and show concern for the health and well being of the other parties by making sure everyone is OK. Save your account of the wreck for investigating officers, and never concede fault. Fault is a determination that only the investigating officer should make after considering all of the circumstances.