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LET'S REVIEW: What to Do and Not Do After a Car Accident

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Old 03-18-11, 11:15 AM   #1
PhilipMSPT
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Default LET'S REVIEW: What to Do and Not Do After a Car Accident

Staying Alive: What to Do and Not Do After a Crash
Police and emergency responders weigh in on the biggest missteps and the best course of action after an accident.
By Matthew de Paula of MSN Autos

MSN Autos News Link





Amelia Hernandez-Garcia's fatal mistake is one that many motorists make.

On Feb. 23, she got out of her car after it became disabled in the westbound center lane of Interstate 40 in Raleigh, N.C., and stood in the open roadway. Another motorist stopped in the middle of the interstate to help. Hernandez-Garcia, 34, exited her vehicle and asked to use his phone, at which time another vehicle struck the good Samaritan's car, throwing Hernandez-Garcia into the left lane, where yet another vehicle hit her. She died at the scene.

This tragedy illustrates the extreme danger that some motorists put themselves in after a wreck or breakdown.

"Don't get out of the cars and stand around," says Sgt. Scott Olson, who heads up traffic enforcement for the Minneapolis Police Department. "Secondary accidents happen all the time at these crashes."

They happen so often that not a day goes by in the United States without an emergency first responder getting struck by an inattentive motorist, says Skip Kirkwood, chief of the Wake County Department of Emergency Medical Services in North Carolina. "If we have to operate at the scene of a wreck on the highway, we have taken to putting 40,000-pound firetrucks between us and oncoming traffic, just to keep the firefighters and paramedics from getting killed."

Had Hernandez-Garcia and the good Samaritan moved to a safe area away from traffic and then called 911, this tragedy might have been avoided. But stressful situations often make it hard to know what to do.

With that in mind, we've compiled some do's and don'ts for motorists involved in a collision or a breakdown, based on feedback from police and other emergency responders. Following these steps can minimize the stress, complications and sheer danger that follow an accident.

Call 911, Answer Questions, Get Off the Phone

Even if your collision is minor, call 911 not 411 says Sgt. Daniel Bates, who supervises the Collision Reconstruction Unit of the New York State Police. Calling 411 might route you to the state police headquarters' main dispatch point, rather than to the nearest precinct, which makes it more difficult to determine the location of the accident.

Once on the phone with a 911 dispatcher, answer all the questions. "911 centers have an interrogation procedure they use to get everything they need in one call," Kirkwood says. "A lot of times, people want to call them and tell them what they want to tell them, not what they need to know."

Once the call is over, stay off the phone so you can focus on what's unfolding at the scene and answer questions from police and other emergency responders.

In Minor Collisions, Move Out of Traffic and Get Information

In accidents with negligible property damage and without fatalities or serious injuries, move the vehicles off the roadway or as far over to the side and out of the way of traffic as possible. This reduces the likelihood of secondary collisions and minimizes traffic jams.

Snap a few pictures with a cell-phone camera if you're concerned about documenting the scene. But get the vehicles out of the way.

If damage from the wreck falls below a certain threshold, neither the police nor those involved are required to submit an accident report to the department of motor vehicles. Each state sets its own threshold for the amount of property damage that requires a report.

But even if you do call the police, go ahead and exchange information with other motorists involved there's no need to wait for the authorities to arrive as long as the scene is safe. Bates recommends jotting down notes of what happened and seeking out witnesses to get contact information for those willing to go on the record with what they saw.





In Serious Collisions, Do Not Move Vehicles

"The only time I'm going to reconstruct an accident is if there's a death or there's criminal charges or you've got significant physical evidence at the scene," Olson says. "So if there are injuries, leave the cars until the police and fire are all there."

If they are still functional, turn on flashers and headlights so other motorists can see you better. If you have a reflective emergency triangle and aren't seriously injured, set it up to help make the scene even more visible. But light road flares only if you're sure there are no fuel leaks, Kirkwood says.

"Apply self-aid or first aid to whoever needs it," he adds. "Along with that, leave injured people in the car, unless the car is actually on fire. Cars don't blow up in real life like they do on TV."

If you or any passengers are hurt, be sure that written reports reflect that. "We're seeing more and more where people are coming back and saying, 'Well, so and so was in the car and we took them to the hospital,'" Olson says. "Well, you didn't tell me at the scene that there was anybody else in the car. They will not go on the accident report if you report it after the fact because it just smacks of insurance fraud."

Leave Everything Where It Is

In severe accidents, don't pick up vehicle parts or people's possessions strewn across the road. "In serious collisions, a common thing that causes our job to be harder is when people end up moving things," Bates says. "In the effort of trying to do the right thing, people will pick up articles of clothing or car pieces and say, 'Hey, I found this.' The thing is, we needed to know where that was in its uncontrolled, final rest location." That's because police often must rely more on the physical evidence of crash scenes than eyewitness accounts to reconstruct what happened.

"My people who deal with accidents all the time, they filter out most of everything that's said, other than which lanes they were in, because they're looking more at the scene to figure out what happened," Olson says. They take that approach not only because accounts of people involved are often biased, but also because witnesses aren't always reliable.

The problems start when witnesses congregate at the scene, which often happens, Olson says. "Somebody who's more adamant may not have actually seen the accident, but they've created a version of it and now they start tainting what you saw and now you start questioning yourself."

Regardless of who's saying what, don't argue fault especially if you were involved in the collision. "There's absolutely no point in arguing an accident. Everybody sees the accident differently. In the end, realistically, it's going to be up to the insurance companies to decide who they want to say is at fault and for how much," Olson says.

In the Final Analysis

The common thread woven throughout all of the advice from emergency responders about what to do and not do after getting in a wreck is simple: Act in a way that doesn't make an already bad situation worse. "It's about maintaining your composure," Bates says. "Common sense needs to prevail in these situations."
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Old 03-18-11, 11:25 AM   #2
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Quote:
Cars don't blow up in real life like they do on TV."
Incorrect. While car-explosions are indeed somewhat unusual, get the right combination of gas fumes, a ruptured tank, and fire or electrical sparks, and you could have a time bomb.

Last edited by mmarshall; 03-18-11 at 12:46 PM.
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Old 03-18-11, 12:37 PM   #3
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"Common sense needs to prevail in these situations."[/QUOTE]

Common sense isnt as "common" nowdays
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Old 03-18-11, 01:36 PM   #4
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Incorrect. While car-explosions are indeed somewhat unusual, get the right combination of gas fumes, a ruptured tank, and fire or electrical sparks, and you could have a time bomb.
Incorrect, as you would say.

"Cars don't blow up in real life like they do on TV." is what they said.

Yes with all the factors you stated, cars do catch fire, but the effect is not nearly as spectacular as the fake crap on TV. Let's be realistic about TV pyrotechnics and "time bombs".

More on topic, some good safety tips contained in this article.
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Old 03-18-11, 02:14 PM   #5
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Thanks for sharing the info. I wish more people would be aware of this info. Last year we had a guy on a local highway help another change a tire that blew and was struck a nd killed by oncoming traffic.
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Old 03-18-11, 03:47 PM   #6
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It's always puzzling and seriously irritating to me when I see vehicles that have been involved in accidents that clearly HAS NOT disabled their vehicle, still standing in the middle of the road endangering their own lives (while severely inconveniencing others').

I was involved in an accident in '09 that basically knocked out my entire rear suspension and luckily my car spun into the painted median where it wasn't really a nuisance to others on the road (and I lucked into having Highway Patrol coming up the street), but I see some people making some seriously hard-headed decisions following an accident all the time.

I can't judge if the persons involved in the accident are injured--but thankfully most of the accidents I witness don't result in serious outward injuries.
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Old 03-18-11, 04:53 PM   #7
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This is good to know. Thanks for starting this thread!
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Old 03-18-11, 05:48 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by IS-SV View Post
Incorrect, as you would say.

"Cars don't blow up in real life like they do on TV." is what they said.

Yes with all the factors you stated, cars do catch fire, but the effect is not nearly as spectacular as the fake crap on TV. Let's be realistic about TV pyrotechnics and "time bombs".
Granted, I myself have never personally seen a car go up like a time bomb, but if you watch the realistic and factual cop shows on cable-TV (those which are taken with actual dash/windshield-mounted police videos that record the date/time/place), I've seen several cars go up like a Roman candle. Those videos, BTW, are police evidence, and are admissible in court.

There are two types of cop shows on TV. Some are done purely for viewer-entertainment (Law and Order SVU, Crime-Scene CSI, Miami-Vice, Hawaii Five-O, etc.....) with Hollywood-actors and fictitional scenes. Others are actual live cases, with real police officers, that are filmed on-location with real police videos and cases, like COPS, Most-Daring High-Speed Police Chases, Speeders, etc......

Quote:

More on topic, some good safety tips contained in this article.
Well, if you have the conditions likely for a car fire, then getting away from that car ASAP, safety-wise, is certainly part of the thread topic....unless you have a hand extinguisher and can put the fire out fairly easily.

Last edited by mmarshall; 03-18-11 at 05:54 PM.
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Old 03-18-11, 05:58 PM   #9
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some good info here. luckily ive never been in an accident.
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Old 03-18-11, 06:07 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mmarshall View Post
Granted, I myself have never personally seen a car go up like a time bomb, but if you watch the realistic and factual cop shows on cable-TV (those which are taken with actual dash/windshield-mounted police videos that record the date/time/place), I've seen several cars go up like a Roman candle. Those videos, BTW, are police evidence, and are admissible in court.

Well, if you have the conditions likely for a car fire, then getting away from that car ASAP, safety-wise, is certainly part of the thread topic....unless you have a hand extinguisher and can put the fire out fairly easily.
Yes, I guessed you watch a fair amount of TV, and "going up like a Roman candle" is one way to describe a car fire. I like many here have seen plenty of car fires too. What they are talking about is the fake "TV" car fire scenes with cars blowing up after flying off cliffs and with car bombs exploding, action movie stuff for example.

If you read the article, they do not suggest staying with a car that is leaking fuel or is about to catch on fire, no kidding. The article is making suggestions with safety in mind, not hyperbole.
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Old 03-20-11, 09:03 PM   #11
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Such important information should be included in an owners manual for someone to read when they purchase a vehicle
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Old 03-20-11, 10:03 PM   #12
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Such important information should be included in an owners manual for someone to read when they purchase a vehicle
Saturn owners' manuals used to include a lot of info on that, also including driving tips for avoiding accidents in the first place. That is one reason why the manuals for even a low-tech, simple car like the Saturn S-series was hundreds of pages long.

(just one more reason, among many, why the company will be missed)
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Old 03-21-11, 11:56 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by IS-SV View Post
Yes, I guessed you watch a fair amount of TV, and "going up like a Roman candle" is one way to describe a car fire. I like many here have seen plenty of car fires too. What they are talking about is the fake "TV" car fire scenes with cars blowing up after flying off cliffs and with car bombs exploding, action movie stuff for example.

If you read the article, they do not suggest staying with a car that is leaking fuel or is about to catch on fire, no kidding. The article is making suggestions with safety in mind, not hyperbole.
There is no threat of a car exploding that is not subject to some heat source. Combustion needs both pressure and heat, and without the heat, there is neither of those 2 things. Even if the fuel tank had a leak, it's pretty unlikely it would combust. You'd probably get, as MMarshal said, a roman candle type effect as the pressure in the tank (due to heat) increased the rate of flow of fuel leaking, and fuel changing phase to gaseous as the pressure suddenly drops on the outside of the tank.

No one is saying that you should stay near a car that is on fire - but the point was that cars do not spontaneously blow up after an accident (just like you said).

I'll add that gas is pretty volatile (meaning it evaporates quickly), and on the highway, which is an extremely well ventilated area, it's unlikely fumes would linger around for a significant period of time.
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Old 03-21-11, 12:18 PM   #14
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Infra - Thanks for the further clarification of the article's recommendations.

That's where a forum like Car Chat can add value, real information from those educated, experienced and knowledgeable in specific technical fields, adding depth. Going beyond the usual hearsay and common knowledge, members benefit accordingly.
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Old 03-21-11, 02:21 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mmarshall View Post
Saturn owners' manuals used to include a lot of info on that, also including driving tips for avoiding accidents in the first place. That is one reason why the manuals for even a low-tech, simple car like the Saturn S-series was hundreds of pages long.

(just one more reason, among many, why the company will be missed)
Lucky me, I just happen to have a Saturn SL2. I'll take a look at the manual when I get home. I remember seeing all sorts of useful stuff in it back when my mom first got the car.

This stuff should come in every owners manual and should be tought in drivers education too.
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