Driving can be a stressful experience. Heavy traffic, speeders, weather conditions, and so many other factors can have an impact on our comfort level behind the wheel. For many of us, the ultimate stress factor behind the wheel is fear of getting into an accident. While most of us have thought about what to do if it happens to us, we don’t often consider what to do if we witness an accident.
Generally speaking, most people want to help when they see someone else in trouble but when an accident occurs right in front of us, are we legally obligated to help? Should we stop and offer assistance or continue to our destination and phone the police later? These are all reasonable questions and knowing the correct answers can help us do the right thing in an emergency situation.
1. Call 9-1-1
If you see a car accident occur, whether or not you call emergency services will depend on the severity of the accident. Simple fender benders that do not result in injuries do not necessarily need first responders dispatched. If there are no injuries to report, you can call or text (if available) the local non-emergency number. If the accident is serious, there are injuries or fatalities, or you are unsure of the severity of the accident, 9-1-1 should typically be called immediately. Pull your vehicle to the side of the road at a safe distance from the accident and call 9-1-1. You should stop and do this at the scene of the accident, rather than calling once you reach your destination.
Typically, 9-1-1 operators will ask you for as much information as you are able to provide, such as cars involved and if there are injuries, but it’s okay to not know all of the details.
2. Offer Assistance
Stopping to provide help is a judgement call that only you can make. You don’t have a legal obligation to stay at the scene, but the victims may need your help contacting the police or the paramedics. The police recommend always doing what you can to minimize the risk to yourself and to others and this may mean stopping to help or continuing on after you have called 9-1-1. Ensure when you stop to offer assistance that you and other road users remain as safe as possible and you aren't adding more confusion or chaos to an already likely stressful situation.
3. Approach with Caution
If you do decide to stop and offer assistance, don’t rush into the scene. Keep a safe distance from broken glass, sharp metal, and smoking vehicles. In the immediate aftermath of a motor vehicle accident, there may be hazards – both seen and unseen – that can cause you injury as well.
Do not attempt to move an injured person unless they are in immediate danger and you can do so without considerable risk of harm to yourself or others. If you are qualified to administer first aid, follow the appropriate guidelines and begin first aid if needed.
4. Provide Details
Be sure to provide your contact information to the police if they arrive on scene. Make notes about how, when, and where the accident occurred, including as much detail as possible, and make notes on the make, model, colour and licence plate numbers of all vehicles involved. Other details to consider noting down are how many people were involved, whether anyone had visible injuries, and the road and weather conditions at the time of the accident.
If the accident is minor and/or the police are not attending, ICBC offers a Witness Information Form that can be used to submit any witness accounts directly to them, which can cut down on time and effort spent on collecting witness statements. Completing the witness information form online will also insure that ICBC has all the information collected if the parties involved move to file a claim. If you have a dashcam, you can also provide that footage to the authorities.
While you may be tempted to provide your contact information and accident details directly to the parties involved, this information should only be provided to the police or ICBC to protect your privacy. This will also ensure that any witness statements or accident details remain factual and are not skewed by anyone involved.
Whether you just report the accident to 9-1-1 or you decide to stay and offer assistance where you can, stay safe and remain calm. Your assistance may be vital to those involved in an accident, both in the immediate aftermath and down the road. There may be insurance claims or legal proceedings that require your testimony.