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how to be a good samaritan

a post-accident guide for well-meaning folks

The fact that you're reading this in the first place means you probably look out for your fellow drivers. In appreciation of your goodwill, we gathered some tips to help make you a savvy and safe Good Samaritan in case the opportunity presents itself.

When you're first at the scene of a car accident

car accident

Every situation is different, of course, but taking these steps will help give victims the best aid possible while keeping you safe.

Park safely away from the crash

If you were driving when the crash happened, park at least 100 feet from the scene. This allows you to survey the scene from a safe distance and make sure you're not in immediate danger. It also helps make sure emergency vehicles have a clear path.

Signal the crash for other motorists or emergency personnel

This can be done by flicking on your hazard lights. And if you have flares or traffic triangles, put them to good use.

Assess the situation

Keep your distance while sizing up possible injuries and possible victims (who may have been thrown from their cars) or hazardous conditions like broken glass, leaked fuel, or fallen power lines. If there's any hint of leaked fuel, do not use flares.

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Call 911

Don't assume someone else called. Be ready to relay pertinent details like the location of the incident, number of people involved, and severity of their injuries. If someone else witnessed the accident, ask that person to call 911 while you continue to seek ways to help.

If it's safe to proceed, assist victims who need help

Try to talk to those who are hurt. Don't move them, as this could worsen their injuries. Just be calming and assure them that help is coming. You can also cover them with something warm if they need it, shade them from the sun, or just hold their hand. Remember, you're not a medical professional (unless, of course, you are one). So it's not your job to treat injuries — just try to keep victims safe until professional help arrives.

If someone is trapped in a burning car or another dangerous scenario, that's different. If you're able to, try to move them to a safe distance while you wait for help to arrive.

Stabilize the cars

If victims have been tended to and it's safe to move around the scene, put any vehicles involved in "park" and turn the ignition off. And if it's a minor incident and the drivers are up to it, you could help them push their cars out of further harm's way.

Good Samaritan laws

Good Samaritans like yourself have the best of intentions when helping at the scene of a car crash, but sometimes even the best intentions can actually lead to further complications or injuries.

Some states have enacted Good Samaritan laws for just these types of cases. Good Samaritan laws can offer liability protection for civilians who assist others in need. This doesn't mean Samaritans are automatically covered in every case — laws vary from state to state, so you'll want to find the specifics in your area.

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Where'd the term "Good Samaritan" come from, anyway?

Samaritans, as described in the Bible, were social outcasts in Jerusalem. The "Good Samaritan" is the description of one Samaritan man who, against the odds, stopped to help an injured traveler whom no one else would assist.

Giving a helping hand

After a car accident, a little civilian help can go a long way. Sometimes it means heroically moving a victim from a burning car, but more often it means calling 911 or offering some reassuring words as you wait for help to arrive. Keep these guidelines in mind the next time you find yourself at the scene of a crash.

Related links

How to handle an accident
Find out what to do when you're actually involved in the accident, from documenting the scene to filing your car insurance claim.

First aid tips from the Red Cross
Boost your Good Samaritan skills by reading up on the latest CPR techniques from the American Red Cross.