Each year in the United States, roughly 300 people lose their lives in stopped vehicle accidents, according to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS). Every driver must do their part to ensure those who have already been in a car accident are not further injured or killed by passing traffic.
The information below will help motorists know what to do when passing a car accident scene on the side of the road or highway. With further questions about traffic safety in West Virginia, please contact the car accident lawyers at DiPiero Simmons McGinley & Bastress, PLLC.
What Should You Do When Passing the Scene of a Collision?
Victims of car accidents are highly vulnerable. When a vehicle is disabled on the side of the road, the occupants of the vehicle, whether they are injured or not, are in a dangerous position. You as a driver have the responsibility to protect accident victims from further harm. There have been far too many instances in which pedestrians near a crash scene on the shoulder of a highway are struck and killed by passing traffic. When approaching the scene of an accident, caution is critical.
If you are nearing a crash scene in your vehicle, try to keep in mind the following car accident scene safety tips:
Slow Down and Move Over
The last thing you should do is speed past the scene of an accident. You never know if a person on foot might move suddenly into your path. Move as far as you can to the opposite side of the road and proceed cautiously past the crash scene. The speed limit does not apply when you are passing the scene of a motor vehicle crash.
Stop If Necessary
If the vehicles involved in the collision have blocked the flow of traffic, wait until it is safe to proceed. Do not attempt to swerve around an obstacle or force your way past a collision scene. West Virginia’s move over laws require a driver passing an emergency vehicle like a police car or ambulance to move over and slow down. Drivers should provide a cushion of safety between the emergency vehicle and moving traffic. Pull over and let an emergency vehicle pass when necessary.
Turn on Your Hazard Lights
Activate your car’s flashing emergency lights as you slowly pass the scene of a car accident. This can make your vehicle more visible and alert other drivers as they approach dangerous driving conditions. You can also turn on your headlights, especially if the lighting is low or there are any adverse weather conditions.
Call for Help
If emergency medical personnel have not yet arrived on the scene, you can help by calling 911. Wait until you are beyond the scene of the crash, pull over when it is safe to do so, activate your vehicle hazard lights if you haven’t already, and make the call. Try to provide as many specific details as possible, such as the exact location of the accidents by street names, any nearby landmarks, the number and type of vehicles involved, and the conditions of the motorists if noted.
If approaching the scene is possible and you decide to exit to your vehicle to help the accident victims, make sure you and your vehicle are safely out of the way of traffic. Do not attempt to touch or move any seriously injured victim. Wait for help to arrive.
Keep Your Eyes on the Road
One of the main reasons stopped vehicle accidents occur is because drivers are looking at the accident scene, not the road. As difficult as it may be, focus your attention on the task of safe driving, following all traffic laws, and observing the actions of drivers around you. Passing an accident scene requires you to be an even more attentive driver than you usually are, not less. Rubbernecking is one of the most dangerous behaviors when passing a motor vehicle crash scene.
Don’t assume the actions of other drivers. Even if you are driving cautiously and not focusing your attention on the crash scene, it doesn’t mean that other drivers are. Staring at the scene of an accident from behind the wheel is, unfortunately, very common driver behavior. When a driver’s attention is on the crash scene, you cannot predict how they may maneuver their car. Keep ample distance between your own car and other vehicles. Give yourself time to react if another driver swerves, brakes suddenly, drifts out of a lane, or engages in any other erratic or dangerous behaviors.
Watch for People on Foot
Whether or not police officers and emergency medical technicians have arrived at the scene, there are likely to be people moving about on foot near the vehicles. Drivers may be exchanging information, examining their vehicles for damage, checking to make sure no one is seriously injured, and taking pictures to document the conditions of the crash scene. If the accident is serious, there may be severely injured victims in their vehicles or on the road surface nearby.
Driving slowly, cautiously, and as far to the opposing side of the road is imperative. Even if you think you can clearly see and avoid a pedestrian, do not assume their actions. A car accident victim may be in shock or panic and move unpredictably. In some cases, a driver or passenger may be intoxicated. Drive as though a person may run in front of your car at any minute.
Be Mindful of Changing Traffic Patterns
In the aftermath of a collision, it’s probable that traffic patterns will need to change. Police may have erected temporary roadblocks, or may be directing traffic around the crash site via detour or side road. Traffic lights may be disabled, guardrails may be broken, signs may be downed, and rules for lane use may be temporarily altered. Pay attention to the new flow of traffic and any directions that are being given by sign, signal, or human traffic director.
Watch for Oil Spills or Debris in the Road
There may have been solid or liquid objects dislodged in the collision. Some of this debris may have made its way into the road. Shattered glass, oil and other liquids, auto parts, broken metal, car doors, pieces of tire, and other dangerous obstacles may be on the surface of the highway near a crash scene. Keep alert for any objects that can damage your vehicle or cause another accident.
Get Legal Help After an Accident
If you were seriously injured in a car accident in West Virginia, you have the right to explore legal options for financial recovery. Victims of collisions caused by the negligence of another driver may be able to file a claim against the driver or other party whose carelessness or wrongdoing resulted in their injuries. Reach out to our firm to learn more about how we may be able to help you after a car accident injury.