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What to do if you witness an accident

Watching a car accident unfold before your very eyes is enough to shake anyone up. Even just coming across an accident soon after it happened can be terrifying. In the adrenaline-fueled shock of the moment, it's easy to panic, which is why everyone should consider what they would do in this situation before it happens.

How to help

Bystanders can make a life-or-death difference in serious auto accidents. Additionally, if you witnessed the accident, your recollections may play a key role in sorting out what happened.

Like many states, Colorado has a "good Samaritan" law. This means you can't be held liable for your efforts to render aid in an emergency situation.

Follow these tips when you come across an accident scene:

  • Call 911. Don't assume others have already done so. Even though nearly everyone has a cellphone these days, in the aftermath of a jarring crash, those involved in the accident might not have the mental clarity or physical ability to call. Likewise, other bystanders may assume someone else has already called.
  • Remain calm. Your help won't be as effective if you're panicking. Breathe deeply and slowly to counteract the adrenaline rush.
  • Pull over in a safe spot. Don't put yourself (or others) at risk by adding another hazard to an already dangerous situation. Make sure your vehicle is out of the way of traffic. Turn on your hazard lights to increase your visibility to other vehicles.
  • Evaluate the situation. Is smoke pouring from a vehicle? Are victims lying in the middle of the road? In these sorts of dire situations, act quickly to get people clear of imminent danger. Otherwise, however, avoid moving the victims, since that could aggravate their injuries.
  • Check for injuries. If you can safely approach the vehicles involved in the accident, determine whether the occupants are conscious. Focus on those who aren't talking or conscious. Even if they don't have visible injuries, they may have suffered life-threatening internal harm. Watch their chest to see whether they're breathing normally. Check for a pulse in their carotid artery on the side of the neck.
  • Perform CPR if warranted. If a victim isn't breathing or doesn't have a pulse, perform CPR, even if you're not trained or can't remember the details. CPR can more than double the victim's chance of survival if their heart has stopped. Focus on chest compressions, aiming for 100 per minute. Ideally, provide two breaths via mouth-to-mouth for every 30 compressions, but don't stop compressions for more than 10 seconds at a time.
  • Stop the bleeding. If a victim is bleeding profusely and appears to be in shock - with a pale face and cold, clammy skin - ask them to lie down and elevate their feet or legs. Apply firm pressure to the wound with a cloth or blanket.
  • Tell the police what happened. Once the accident scene has been secured, tell the police what you observed or, if you don't have time to go over all the details, give them your contact information so they can reach you later.

By taking the time to stop and help accident victims at the scene, you could very well save a life.

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