How to safely assist after a traffic collision

DOWNEY - This week let's think about the hazards created by traffic accidents. The term situational awareness is frequently used by fire and law enforcement officials when they consider what may happen in certain situations. For our purposes, the term is useful when we find ourselves in an unfamiliar, sometimes emergency situation.Most of us drive a number of miles every day for work and family purposes. Hopefully, we are safe, defensive drivers and we avoid being involved in accidents ourselves. Thankfully, we don't see very many traffic accidents. When accidents occur, most drivers slow down and look at the damaged cars. Other drivers look to see if there are any injuries that should be reported. The result of the post-accident actions of some distracted drivers is often an avoidable, secondary accident in the immediate area of the original traffic accident. Surprisingly, even police and fire department emergency vehicles (with flashing lights !) are sometimes struck by drivers who are not paying attention to their driving responsibilities. Each year police officers, fire fighters and the drivers and passengers involved in the accidents are injured or killed by distracted drivers. Passing drivers who are present when a vehicle accident occurs resulting in injuries or property damage, or who arrive immediately after an accident has occurred (before the police and fire depts. have arrived), should consider the following actions: •Safely bring your vehicle to a stop in a safe place off the roadway and past the accident. •Place a 911 call to the local police department to report the problem. Be prepared to give the details of the location and the accident to the dispatcher. This is very important information for the emergency responders. Often, callers are confused about the direction they are traveling and sometimes even confused about the town they are in. Knowing the closest landmark or cross street is helpful too. Inaccurate information about an accident location frequently increases the response time for the emergency responders. •If you decide to leave your vehicle and evaluate the accident after notifying the local emergency responders, proceed with caution. There may be hazards in the immediate accident area that you are unaware of such as power lines down, fuel leaks, precariously positioned vehicles, traffic hazards, distracted drivers, etc. Without specific training and careful actions on your part, you may end up as an additional part of the emergency problem. If you are driving past an accident scene when police and fire department vehicles are at the scene, take the following actions: •watch your speed, slow down if possible, be sure you are in control of your vehicle •give the responders some space, move over a full lane if you can •be alert for other emergency vehicles (i.e. ambulances) responding to or leaving from the incident. •remember that your role is to stay focused on driving your vehicle safely, not watching the emergency responders In Downey, cell phone calls to 911 are usually funneled to the Downey Police Department for processing. The DPD was one of the first police departments in California to implement this procedure. Before this new process was in place, all cell phone calls were handled by the California Highway Patrol dispatch center. The CHP center takes in hundreds of calls every day and can take a few minutes to process a call. Depending on the location of the cell phone caller, the CHP still picks up some of the Downey cell phone 911 calls. You can also use another Downey Police Department number when calling from your cell phone (562-861-0770). This number rings at the DPD communications center and is not subject to being picked up by CHP. Remember, your priority should always be to use 911 to report emergencies. DPD dispatchers receive specific information from the calling line when the 911 system is used. This is especially important when a caller is using a landline because the address is included with the caller information. Always stay aware of your surroundings, especially when you find yourself in the area of an emergency. If something doesn't look right, take a moment and think about the cause of the problem. Your situational awareness efforts may save your life and the lives of others. If you have comments or questions about this column, please send them to

********** Published: March 10, 2011 - Volume 9 - Issue 47