According to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety’s most recent Traffic Collision Fact Book, one car accident happens approximately every 4.4 minutes in South Carolina, which translates into one injury every 9.9 minutes and one death every 10.6 hours. Because car accidents are so prevalent in our state there is a good chance that eventually you will witness a car crash. Will you know what to do? Under most circumstances, following the tips below will enable you to stay safe, assist injured individuals when possible, and provide helpful evidence for a victim’s subsequent car accident claim. Keep in mind that the suggestions listed below are meant only as general guidelines and that you should consult with a local car accident attorney if you have case specific questions.

Tips for Car Accident Witnesses

1. Stay Calm, Stay Safe, and Assess the Situation

What to do immediately after witnessing a car accident depends largely on how serious the accident was, whether anyone was seriously injured, and whether or not it is safe for you to stop and provide assistance. Try to remain calm and first assess whether or not it is safe for you to pull over and help. Be particularly careful if you see broken glass, cars swerving to avoid the wreck, gas leaking out onto the street, or flames. If you believe that it is safe to pull over do so with your hazard lights on and be sure to leave plenty of room for emergency vehicles to pull up at the scene of the accident.

If you witness a hit and run accident do not attempt to chase down the fleeing driver as doing so can be extremely dangerous. However, it will be very helpful if you are able to jot down the fleeing driver’s license plate number, the make/model/color of vehicle that they were driving, and/or a physical description of the person who was driving.

2. Call 911

It is always better to be safe than sorry, so if you witness a car crash call 911 and report the accident. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that someone else has already called. When you call be prepared to tell the emergency dispatch operator that you witnessed a car accident, the location of the accident, approximately how many people are injured, and how badly you think those people are hurt. Do not be afraid to call 911, they are here to help.

3. Provide Assistance If Possible

If the accident was not severe then you may be able to assist simply by sitting with a shaken driver until the police arrive. However, if it was a severe accident with serious injuries keep the following advice in mind:

  • Do not move an injured person unless it is very dangerous to leave them where they are (for example if their vehicle is on fire),
  • If you are trained to administer First Aid assist injured individuals in accordance with your training in order to stabilize them if necessary,
  • If possible, stabilize the vehicles by helping move them off of the road and turning them off,
  • If appropriate, put out flares or traffic triangles to warn approaching drivers to proceed with caution, and
  • Help keep people calm and out of traffic until help arrives.

4. Cooperate with the Police and Give a Statement if Asked to do so

When the police arrive at the scene of the accident let them know that you witnessed the accident. They will probably ask you to give a statement and to provide your name and contact information. Even though you may be flustered or emotional try your best to provide a clear and thorough account of what you witnessed. If you can’t remember a specific detail don’t be afraid to tell the police that you can’t remember. Be aware that you may be contacted in the future to act as a legal witness.

5. Take Notes About What You Witnessed

Lastly, you may want to consider jotting down some notes about the car accident that you witnessed. If you are asked to be a legal witness later on down the road it will be very helpful if you have a written account of what you saw. This may sound silly but you would be surprised how quickly car accident witnesses tend to forget the details of what they saw. Therefore, it is a good idea to take some notes and to keep those notes in a safe place as it may be quite a while before you are asked to act as a legal witness. While serving as a witness may prove to be time consuming try to keep in mind how much your truthful account of the accident may mean to an innocent victim’s case.

Need Legal Advice?

If you witness a car accident in South Carolina and have questions about where your legal rights and responsibilities start and stop, contact the car accident attorneys of the Joye Law Firm without delay. Our offices are located throughout South Carolina but if you are unable to come to us our experienced lawyers will come to you. Contact us today at (888) 324-3100 to schedule a free consultation.

About the Author

Mark Joye is the Head of the Litigation Department at the Joye Law Firm. A Board-Certified Trial Advocate with nearly 30 years of litigation experience, he currently serves on the Board of Governors for the American Association for Justice and is a past president of the South Carolina Association for Justice. In a recent trial, Joye headed a trial team that secured $17 million for a family killed in a tractor-trailer accident.

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