If you’ve ever been involved in a serious accident, you know how easy it is to say or do the wrong thing in the moments that follow. Here’s a checklist to help you make the right decisions when your life gets out of control.
1. STOP. Stay calm. DO NOT leave the scene of the accident (unless you fear for your life). If possible, move your car to the side of the road for safety until the police arrive.
2. CALL 911. Call for an ambulance if there are, or even if you suspect that there could be injuries. Many times injuries manifest themselves after a delay of up to one hour or more. A person with a head injury is probably incapable of determining whether or not they need help, and will often refuse help. If the accident is serious, you should probably call for an ambulance and let trained professionals determine the nature of injuries, if any.
3. NEVER agree not to call the police, even if you are offered money to do so. The law often requires the police to investigate accidents, and you never know what might develop later if you don’t get the police involved. Besides, if someone is asking you not to call the police, something is wrong and you need to find a police officer ASAP. Your own safety may be at risk.
4. WAIT. Find a safe place away from traffic to wait for police and fire rescue personnel to arrive. Onlookers driving by often cause additional accidents while they are gawking at yours. WHILE YOU ARE WAITING. If there are injuries, provide first aid to the best of your ability. But only do so if you can do so SAFELY, without sustaining any further injury yourself! Your first duty at an accident is always to protect yourself first, and everyone else second. You can’t help others if you do something stupid that will get you hurt. STAY AWAY FROM TRAFFIC and ALL OTHER POSSIBLE DANGERS. This is also a good time to locate your license, registration and proof of insurance if there are no injuries. But again, only do so if your vehicle has been moved safely out of traffic.
5. ADMIT NOTHING. DO NOT ADMIT GUILT! I don’t care if it was your fault; admit nothing. There will be ample time to admit guilt and do the right thing later, after your rights have been protected. If there are no injuries, this is a good time to get your attorney on the phone and get some advice. It’s very easy under the stress of an accident to make admissions of guilt when you were not even at fault. Call your attorney and wait until all the facts are in before you give away everything you own with a poorly timed confession.
6. NOW SHUT UP. You’ve already done everything you need to, now it’s time to shut up and wait for help. NEVER speak to the other driver(s), or their insurance company, EVER; and that goes double while your still on the scene of the accident. Talk to the police, and no one else. Be honest and factual, giving only the facts EXACTLY as you remember them, being careful not to draw any conclusions. If you don’t remember something, say so. EVERYTHING you say to the police may be used against you. So think twice BEFORE you speak even once.
7. GATHER INFORMATION. Again, safety first. And many facts may be available to you by requesting a copy of the police report. But don’t trust your memory. I don’t care how good it is, this is the time that it’s most likely to fail you. Take pictures; most cell phones have camera’s – now is an excellent time to start snapping pictures. Get the names, addresses and telephone numbers of any possible witnesses. Everything you document now will help you later should a lawsuit develop. Write down every little detail. Everything is important. No detail is too small, or insignificant.
8. DO NOT SMOKE! Smokers may want to reach for a cigarette right about now, but DON’T! Damaged vehicles often release flammable liquids and gasses following an accident. DO NOT SMOKE! If you smell gasoline, get away from the vehicles and any gasoline that may be leaking from them. Gasoline sometimes flows downhill, away from the accident scene. Pay attention and pick a safe place to wait for help. Assume all liquids at the scene are flammable and you won’t make any mistakes.
These are good guidelines to follow in the event of a serious accident. But they are also very general. Every accident is different. Think BEFORE you act. USE YOUR HEAD.
The advice contained herein is not a substitute for sound thinking and common sense. Use these steps as a guideline and adapt them to meet your needs at your accident scene.
This post is designed as a memory aid, to help you remember the things you might forget while under stress, nothing more.