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You could drive for years and never be a witness to an auto accident. The odds are against it, though. Considering that 37,000 people die and another 2.35 million are injured on American roads each year, the odds of you witnessing an accident are fairly high. Knowing what to do at the scene of a mishap could mean the difference between life and death for those involved and years of legal woes for you.

To aid you, Sinclair Law would like to offer this short primer on the steps to take if you are first on the scene of an auto accident.

1. Assess the scene

Your own safety should be your first concern on the scene of an accident. Giving other first responders another victim to treat will do no one any good. Never place yourself in danger at an accident scene. Pull your vehicle as far off the road as possible, and remember to not place yourself in the way of other drivers who may be distracted by the accident.

The Red Cross recommends asking yourself the following questions regardless of the type of accident scene you find yourself at.

  • Is the scene safe to enter?
  • What happened?
  • How many people are involved?
  • What is my initial impression about the nature of the injuries? Are there any life-threatening conditions, such as severe, life-threatening bleeding?
  • Is anyone else available to help?

2. Call for assistance

In the majority of auto accidents, the sooner professionals are on site, the sooner people will receive the help they need and the situation will be resolved. Once armed with the information from answering the questions above, contact authorities as quickly as possible.

3. Secure the accident scene

Preventing further injuries to those already involved and injuries to others caught up in the accident should be your next step. If flares are available, they should be placed as far back from the site of the accident as practical in both directions. This is, of course, conditional that they do not present a fire hazard.

Provided that it does not place them in danger, flagmen should be posted to further warn oncoming traffic of the situation and facilitate traffic flow around the scene.

4. Render qualified aid

What aid you should render to accident victims is difficult to determine in a general article. Most states have Good Samaritan laws on their books, but they vary greatly from state to state. Some only cover those involved in auto accidents, others only those working in a professional capacity. Depending on your location, providing care that results in the worsening of a victim’s condition can leave you open to legal liability.

As a general guideline, only provide care that:

a) You are qualified to give

b) You have permission to give from the injured party, provided they are conscious

c) Is the minimum required to sustain the victim’s life and stabilize them until first responders can reach the scene

No matter how noble your intentions, moving an injured party or attempting to perform first-aid procedures could actually cause more damage.

The exception to this rule is when there is a life-threatening situation. If a person is no longer breathing or their heart has stopped, you should administer CPR if properly certified. If the vehicle they are in is burning, it would probably be best to move them.

As a personal injury attorney, I deal with the aftermath of auto and motorcycle accidents every day. Often these involve people who were just trying to do good, caught in bad situations. I hope that these few pointers help some avoid that happening.