Suddenly... you see a car wreck

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is the second of a three-part series on driving safety concerning what to do if you're in a wreck, what to do if you see a wreck and what security forces patrolmen do to respond to a wreck.

It's a typical morning in Rheinland-Pfalz, and you're driving to work at Spangdahlem.

You pass by a few cars and wonder which country their license plates are from. "'LT?' I haven't seen that one before..." you say to yourself while coming up with names but stopping after realizing that "Larry Town" is not a real country.

You then hear that song on the radio that gets played ad nauseam because a few people and powerful music executives find it popular. "Honestly, how does she make her money?" you ask yourself again, while realizing you have all her albums and her last single is the first song on your most played playlist.

You move your hand from the steering wheel to mercifully adjust your radio station while simultaneously realizing "LT" is the country code for "Lithuania" to your surprise.


... you notice a car that smashed into a pole up the road.

Whether you saw it happen or are the first one to see its aftermath, you're presented with a choice of what to do next. It's almost been a year since you completed your license training, and you're a little fuzzy on the details of what to do.

All you know is this: what you immediately do next could save a life.

What WILL you do?

The above scenario may be as fake as "Larry Town," but the severity of the risks and danger is real. It may have been a while since you've taken your USAREUR driving course test, but refreshing on the necessary steps during a car crash can make the difference between life and death.

Five steps if you see a car wreck

1.) Safety: Assess the wreck's location and current flow of traffic. If you are able to slow down and pull over, do so at a safe location on the side of the road and away from the wreck. Put on your hazard lights when parked.

2.) Assistance: Check to see if the driver(s) is(are) OK. If they appear to have a neck injury, do not attempt to move them from the car. If they have cuts/bruises, use either their first aid kits or yours to treat them accordingly.

"Once we're on scene, we'll make contact with the driver or drivers and ask if there are any injuries," said Staff Sgt. Ryan Wiese, 52nd Security Forces Squadron patrolman and military working dog handler from Nampa, Idaho. "Back pain or neck pain may seem minor, but if they have that pain, we have to get medical teams out there."

If they haven't or are not able to do so, post the mandatory emergency equipment triangle 100 meters behind the wreck to alert other drivers. If they're not able to locate their triangles, consider using your own.

Be mindful if you see flames or a further hazard like ice or a steep ditch. If you've determined the car is beyond approach due to these conditions, remain in your vehicle and proceed to #3.

3.) Contact: Call Security Forces at 0656561-6666. Give them your location to the best that you can and inform them of your relation to the wreck, i.e., as a witness or the first person on-scene.

"If they're not able to call or find their phone because stuff gets tossed around in a wreck or they may be flustered, then call security forces personnel," Wiese said. "The main thing is contacting security forces and letting them know where you are."

4.) Remain on-scene: If you witnessed the wreck, you must not leave so you can provide a statement to police. Be sure to describe everything you remember about the conditions and movements of the vehicle(s) to best help police with their report.

"If you witness it, stand by," Wiese said. "Security forces will determine whether or not they want you there. We like to get as many sides of the story as we can. The driver may not remember information, but the person behind them may be able to see more."

If you are the first on-scene and did not witness the wreck, stand by until police dismiss you. Although you may not be a witness to the wreck, the Good Samaritan Law in Germany requires drivers to render aid where they see it.

But law or not, the real question is what would you want someone to do if they saw you in a wreck?

"I was on my way to work and got stuck in a ditch after a 90-degree turn," said Staff Sgt. Austin Belgarde, a 52nd SFS patrolman and Belcourt, N.D., native. "I fractured vertebrae, couldn't find my phone, busted open my head and couldn't do anything. I was honking my horn to get someone to stop, and no one would."

Fifteen minutes after his wreck, Belgarde said a few Germans pulled over and called the police who later arrived with ambulance services.

"Those minutes seemed like hours, because you're hoping a car would stop, but nobody did," Belgarde said. "For the longest time, no one would stop. I'd see lights go past me. Finally someone did help to give the dispatcher my location, and it was such a great relief that someone stopped and checked on me."

With Belgarde's example in mind, one may wonder what those previous drivers who continued on their way would have thought had he not survived.

5.) Depart: Be careful when departing the scene for oncoming traffic or road conditions. If you've been listed as a witness, you may be summoned again should the matter elevate to court.

"If I were in a wreck, I'd at least want someone to stop and see if everything is OK," Wiese said. "I've known people who've said cars just kept driving by and didn't even ask or stop. Being a wingman is about looking out for your people."