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In case of an accident…


One of the questions that often come up from both parents and students in our driving school classes is, “What do we do if we are involved in a collision?” This is a great question, and I appreciate that people are asking it before they end up that kind of situation. Collisions are stressful and time-consuming, both when they occur and during the weeks of follow-up that it takes to restore our vehicles and our lives to normal.

As a police officer and a driving school instructor, it is very important to me that our newest generation of drivers understands what to do if they are ever unfortunate enough to be involved in a collision. As we teach in class, the ideal situation is for our newest drivers to go a lifetime of collision-free driving. That said, despite our best efforts, bad things sometimes happen and as drivers we end up in collisions.

Although collisions come in many degrees of severity, there are some things that we can do that apply universally to all collision incidents. So, if you are involved in a collision, there are a few steps that should be taken immediately.

First, check for injuries. Immediately after a collision has occurred, check yourself and other passengers in your vehicle for apparent and not-so apparent injuries. It does not take much speed or force to suffer back and neck injuries. Next, contact the other involved driver and see if they are injured. If anyone is complaining of injury or if any apparent injuries exist, call 911 to get an aid crew on the way.

Second, assess the location of the collision. Collisions in parking lots do not always need police officers to respond to them. Often times, this can be handled between the involved parties in a civil manner. Unlike on the roadways, there is no damage threshold in a parking lot that makes a collision “reportable” under Washington State law. With that in mind, if you feel you need a police officer to respond, just call 911 to report the incident and an officer will head your way.

If the collision has occurred on the roadway, and if the collision is currently blocking the roadway, it is critical that you notify 911 as soon as possible so that an officer can respond to help direct traffic and get the investigation under way. During this time, you should assess the damage on the vehicles. If the vehicles are lightly damaged and can still be safely driven off the roadway and out of the way of the flow of traffic, you should plan to move them as soon as is reasonably possible. If any major damage exists that prevents the vehicle from operating, or if other factors lead you to believe moving the cars off the roadway is unsafe, you should notify 911 of this immediately.

Moving the damaged cars off the roadway happens a lot less often than it should. It is not uncommon to see a minor fender-bender in the middle of the roadway with the drivers outside their cars chatting until police officers arrive. Instead of doing this, we encourage you to assess injury, assess your location and damage, and then clear the roadway as quickly as possible. Before moving your car, a good tip is to snap a few photos of the damage and the other cars with your smartphone.

Once you are off the roadway, you must exchange information with the other driver. This is a Washington State legal requirement. You MUST exchange your driver’s license, contact information, and proof of insurance. You must also document make, model, and license plate information for the other vehicle. If the other driver is not cooperative, or if they are aggressive and intimidating, you should call 911 and request that a police officer respond to assist. On that note, it is important that you actually hold and examine the driver license and proof of insurance card for the other driver. Believe it or not, sometimes people will lie to you on a collision and give you a fake name, address, insurance info, and phone number. Again, if you feel something is not right or the other person is being evasive, call 911 and have a police officer respond to assist you.

At 911 Driving School, we teach that a good and attentive driver can go a lifetime without being involved in a collision. Even so, we still must understand and explain how to deal with collisions should someone be unfortunate enough to cause one or be involved in one. These simple steps can help us make it through these stressful incidents.

Peter Barrett, an Arlington police officer and co-owner of 911 Driving School in Marysville, provides tips on safe driving for all ages and all seasons.


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