No one expects to be in a vehicle accident and most people are not prepared for one when it happens. If it’s a work-related vehicle accident, the way that you respond immediately after will determine not only whether the incident is contained and all parties are kept safe, but also whether you or your business is exposed to further expense and liability. That's why it's critical to have a step-by-step post-collision plan prepared in advance and to make sure you and your workers are regularly trained on it. Knowing what steps to take (and what order to take them in) can make the entire experience safer and keep you and your workers compliant with Department of Transportation regulations.
1. If Possible, Get Out of the Roadway
If you have the ability to pull over to the shoulder, do so. If not, you should try to get as far away from the flow of traffic as possible. This is not only for the safety of the parties involved in the accident but also for the first responders and drivers passing by.
2. Turn on Your Flashing Hazard Lights
Apart from being required by the DOT, this action signals to others to be cautious when approaching; this is crucial if there are low visibility conditions or if the collision occurred on a highway where the other vehicles are traveling at high speeds.
3. Check for Injuries or Incipient Stage Fires
Once the vehicle is in a safe location, it's time to check on drivers and passengers involved in the accident. Make sure to carefully check the vehicles involved for any developing hazards such as fires.
4. Call the Authorities
Call 911 to notify law enforcement/public safety, EMS and other local first responders of the collision, including the presence of any hazardous materials being transported or injuries observed. Provide as much detail as possible on the location, circumstances and any type of hazardous materials so that first responders can be properly prepared for handling the collision.
5. Put on Appropriate Safety Wear
Before entering the roadway to place warning devices, put on a high visibility vest or jacket. Make sure that everyone entering roadway is wearing high visibility clothing and advise those who aren't to remain on the shoulder or sidewalk, safely away from the flow of traffic.
6. Setup Required Warning Signs
Per DOT FMCSA 392.22, as soon as possible (but within 10 minutes), place warning flares/devices as follows:
- One on the traffic side of the vehicle and 4 paces/3 meters/10 feet from the stopped commercial vehicle.
- One at 40 paces/30 meters/100 feet in the center of the traffic lane or shoulder occupied by the commercial vehicle and in the direction of approaching traffic.
- One at 40 paces/30 meters/100 feet from stopped commercial vehicle in the center of the lane/shoulder in the direction away from approaching traffic.
- If it is daylight hours, red emergency triangles may be substituted for warning flares.
- If a flammable liquid is leaking, no flame-producing warning device should be used.
- If stopped within 500 feet of a curve, the crest of a hill, or other obstruction to view, the driver should place the warning devices in such a way that they can be seen 100-500 feet from the other side of the obstruction by approaching traffic.
- If stopped on a divided highway or one-way road, the warning devices should be placed at 10 feet/100 feet/200 feet from the stopped vehicle towards approaching traffic.
7. Arrange Clean Up As Required
When and if it is safe, transporters must clean up any hazardous waste discharge or take any action required by federal, state, and local law to ensure the material is not hazardous to human health or the environment.
8. Have Paperwork Ready
After the scene is safe, have all the necessary paperwork ready to provide to law enforcement and/or the other driver as stipulated by state law. Keeping all documents together in a folder makes this much easier, especially during an incident as stressful as a traffic collision.
Dealing with an on-the-job vehicle collision is frustrating. Having a clear, logical plan like the one above - and training on it regularly - can reduce the stress on those involved and reduce your company's risk of DOT fines. Most importantly, it can keep you or your drivers safe from fires, toxic spills, or distracted drivers and prevent an inconvenience from becoming a tragedy. If you would like to know more about how to safely manage post-accident scenes or discuss what safety equipment every fleet should carry, don't hesitate to contact us.