What to do if You Witness a Car Accident

There were more than 115,000 reported car crashes in Wisconsin in 2020, according to the Department of Transportation. Witnessing a car accident can be a scary experience, especially if it’s a serious collision. Even a minor fender bender can cause a great amount of stress for bystanders, let alone the drivers and passengers directly involved. No matter the circumstances, there will likely be traumatic responses. While you are not legally obligated to stay on the scene if you are a witness and did not contribute to the accident, most would agree that it’s just the right thing to do.

Guidelines to follow if you witness a car accident

Call 911 Right Away

Dial 911 and report the accident immediately, even if you are not sure if someone else has already called the police. Those involved in the accident could be seriously injured or in shock, so calling the police yourself ensures that the first responders will get to the scene promptly. Provide specific details regarding the location and nature of the accident to the dispatcher.

Approach the Scene with Caution

Above all, always keep your own personal safety in mind. Emotions will probably run high, so exercise attentiveness, especially if you are dealing with strangers.

  • Stop your vehicle in a safe place that is certain to not be in the way of traffic and leaves room for emergency vehicles.
  • Only exit your vehicle if it is safe to do so.
  • Scan the area to make sure you are not susceptible to injury if there are shards of broken glass, pieces of sharp metal or flames.

Offer Appropriate Assistance

Think about what you would need in this type of devastating situation.

  • If you are comfortable, ask if the victims are okay
  • Volunteer to call an ambulance if anyone is injured.
  • Don’t attempt to move an injured person or perform treatment yourself, especially if you are not a trained medical professional.* Doing so may worsen the injury or symptoms.

*If you are certified to perform CPR in case of an emergency and the victim(s) is/are unconscious or not breathing, call 911 immediately and perform hands-only CPR until the paramedics arrive.

Sometimes, victims may simply need to borrow a pen and paper to exchange information with the other party or even a phone to call their loved ones and insurance companies. A few kind words could also help, if necessary. It is important to limit any conversations to be supportive and comforting, being cognizant not to point the blame on anyone or cause additional tensions.


Stay on the scene and share what you observed with the police to help clear up any questions regarding liability. Just as you would speak to the dispatcher when you call 911, calmly describe what you saw in as much detail as possible. Before you exit the scene, provide your contact information in case police officers have any follow-up questions later.

Being a witness to a car accident can be a nerve-racking experience, but with these tips, you could be an incredible help to those in need. Car accidents can happen within fractions of seconds, regardless of how alert or careful of a driver you are. With the right auto insurance to protect yourself, your loved ones and other passengers, rest assured you’re covered if you’re ever involved in a vehicle accident. Contact your local Rural Mutual agent to learn more.