Accidents Happen

Christina Tesar

Kent State’s police chief gives drivers tips for safely handling automobile accidents

Driving down Main Street, a car swerves quickly into the right lane, cutting off the car in front of yours; it stops abruptly. Turning sharply to avoid a potential collision, your front bumper collides with the back corner of the car in front of yours.

If this were to happen to you, would you know what to do?

According to the Ohio Department of Transportation, 380,000 crashes take place each year on Ohio roadways – roughly 190,000 people are injured and 1,400 people are killed.

Young drivers between the ages of 16 and 25 make up about 30 percent of all Ohio traffic crashes, said Michelle May, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Transportation.

“From 2000 to 2004, the numbers show college men and women are most likely to be involved in a fatal crash in Ohio,” she said.

John Peach, Kent State’s chief of police and director of public safety, said although the Kent campus has few accidents, most resulting from a failure to clear proper distance when backing out of parking spaces, traffic accidents can happen anywhere and at any time. Everyone who drives a vehicle should know what to do if they find themselves in the midst of an accident, he said.

Be Prepared

“You want to be able to say, ‘I have a driver’s license and here it is – it’s valid,'” Peach said. “‘I have an insurance card, and here it is, and the registration. It’s not a stolen car – it’s my car or my parent’s car.’ Those are the important things to have.”

Having these items available can save on future problems because often, the police and other people involved won’t take drivers’ words for it, which Peach said may require them to attend court later on.

He said all drivers should have a safety kit that includes a flashlight, which will be helpful if the accident occurs at night or in a low-lit spot; flares, which should be placed 100 feet from the vehicle to warn others on the roadways; and a first aid kit for any immediate medical attention.

“It’s just common sense to have a safety kit in your car because accidents take place at all times of the day and under any circumstance,” Peach said. “If you have flares, it’s always preferred you put them out well in advance of where your car is because if it is in the middle of the road, or not quite off to the side, there are people who don’t pay attention. Don’t assume everyone is going to see your car.”

Being prepared for an accident before it occurs is only half the knowledge drivers need, Peach said – they must also know what to do after an accident occurs.

“If you get into an accident, the first thing is to ensure that people are being cared for medically, whether it’s you, someone in the car with you or somebody else on the scene,” he said. “You may not be trained as a nurse or a doctor, but there are certain things any reasonably thinking person can do to help aid those in need.”

Once the injuries have been recognized, the next step is to notify 911. Peach said it is important for drivers to provide their whereabouts, even if they are unsure of the exact name of the street or city.

Once on the phone with a 911 dispatcher, the extent of the accident should be reported immediately, including how many people are injured, what caused the accident and whether an ambulance is needed.

“What most dispatchers are able to do is to help you,” Peach said. “They will provide information of what to do if it is a medical problem, so you don’t have to know or remember what you should do next because you will be told by 911, in most cases.”

The dispatcher will notify the local police or a state patrol officer.

Safety for Other Drivers

“In an accident, if your vehicle is able to be moved, get it out of the middle of the road,” Peach said.

He said this is a recent change that has only been in effect for the past couple of years. Drivers no longer have to keep their cars in the exact location the accident occurred because responding police are able to reconstruct the accident with witness accounts and other evidence from the scene.

“This has changed because we don’t want to create more of an impediment for traffic, and, of course, there are always gawkers who are looking up, not paying attention and hit someone,” he said. “It’s usually a domino effect so, if possible, move your car to the side of the road.”

When talking with others involved in the accident, it is essential to find out whether the other driver has insurance and a valid driver’s license. Getting to know the person is important, but always remember to keep a cool and level head, Peach said.

“If someone just banged into your 2007 Ferrari, and you’re upset about it, it isn’t going to help anything,” he said. “The important thing is getting this handled; the insurance companies are available, the police are available, and they are going to sort this thing out with you. That’s what they are here for – to help you.”

Once police are on the scene

Responding police will have received some information regarding the crash from the dispatcher. The officer’s first course of action is to identify any injuries and to prevent any further injuries from happening, Peach said, and he or she may decide to block off the road.

“It isn’t that the responding officers ignore the drivers that are stopped that want to get on with their business, but it doesn’t take a preference over a priority injury,” he said. “Injuries are the most important business to tend to.”

The officer will assess the damage of the accident and determine if it is the type of accident in which the cars are able to be moved to the side of the road, if they haven’t been already. He or she will determine if it is safe to open up the roadway. If needed, the officer will call a tow truck and get witnesses’ accounts.

“If you have a real good view of what took place, and you believe it will be helpful, by all means, stop,” Peach said. “The reason why you should is because you would want any witnesses to stop and help you out.”

Getting a Citation

Depending on whether the accident takes place on public or private ground, the officer will determine whether to issue a ticket.

“If in a public area, you will most likely cited, but if you are not in a public roadway and get into an accident, tickets are not going to come your way easily unless it is some sort of reckless driving,” Peach said.

Being on public grounds is still a means of discretion from police, he said. They may take into account your past driving record, the extent of the accident, if there are any injuries, and whether a substance was the cause of the accident. If so, drivers may need to appear in court.

Peach said the majority of traffic accidents are handled by insurance companies and do not require a trial because they cause less than $1,000 in damage and are due to human error.

Human Error and Insurance

Nicole Kwiecien, a former Kent State student, was forced to go to court after an accident that resulted in more than $2,000 worth of damage to both vehicles.

“One minute I was trying to get the bee out of my car, and the next minute I am paying almost $300 more in car insurance,” Kwiecien said. “It happened in a split second. I was unable to react.”

May said human error accounts for about 82 percent of all accidents and 92 percent of fatal accidents in Ohio.

“Ohioans could significantly reduce the number of crashes through more attentive driver behavior. Paying meticulous attention to the road is a good start,” she said. “Traveling at a reasonable speed – one that allows you to react in time to something unexpected – is also very helpful.”

In the State of Ohio, all persons behind the wheel are required to have insurance. Failure to have insurance will result in loss of driving privileges and will require drivers to appear in court, Peach said.

“It’s really unfair for those who are paying insurance to now have to rely on their own insurance company to handle the cost of the damage instead of the other person’s insurance company,” he said.

Peach gives drivers one piece of advice: Wear a seat belt.

“Seat belts, seat belts, seat belts – it’s that simple, and it does save lives,” he said.

Contact commuting and transportation reporter Christina Tesar at [email protected].