Monday, May 24, 1999

COMMUTING COLUMN


If you're not going to help out at a wreck, then keep on moving

BY TANYA ALBERT
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Headed down the interstate listening to the radio and looking at the traffic ahead.

        A scene unfolds in slow motion: The car in the far right lane cuts into the middle lane.

        But a pickup already is in the middle lane. The vehicles inch closer and closer.

        Tires squeal, horns honk. The vehicles crash.

        Broken plastic flies and the car and truck spin off to the side of the road.

        Does the law require commuters witnessing the accident to stop or can they keep on driving?

        The answer is simple.

        “There's no rule you have to stop,” says Officer Kevin Barrett with Cincinnati police's hit-skip squad in the traffic unit.

        In fact, there's no law in Ohio, Kentucky or Indiana that says a person not involved in the accident has to pull over to the side of the road.

        So the decision to stop after seeing an accident isn't determined by what laws written in the books say.

        It's an individual's decision.

        Take a chance and get involved?

        Or stay anonymous and keep driving so the day isn't inconvenienced?

        If it's a minor fender-bender and it's obvious no one is hurt, it's probably safe to keep on going.

        But if it's more than that, “The fine, upstanding thing to do is say: "I saw this crash, I'm going to stop and see if everyone is OK,'” says Sgt. David Bursten of the Indiana State Police.

        Commuters shouldn't be afraid to stop and help a fellow motorist.

        Just be smart about it.

        If it's nighttime and a driver who witnesses an accident or comes upon an accident scene is alone and doesn't feel safe, it is probably better to stop and call police instead of stopping at the scene.

        But if a motorist does stop to help, Good Samaritan laws in most cases protect the person who stops from being sued. According to Ohio law, anyone stopping at a scene and giving treatment is protected, “unless such acts constitute willful or wonton misconduct.”

        It would have to be an outrageous action, says Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen. (Examples: pouring salt on an open wound or twisting someone's neck after they complained it was sore.)

        At minimum, police say, anyone with a cell phone should pull over to the side of the road and call 911.

        Relay the most specific information possible. Let the emergency dispatcher know how many vehicles were involved, what type of injuries there may be and where the accident is. (Example: in right-hand shoulder of northbound Interstate 71 near the Kenwood Road exit.)

        Once police know what is going on, they can get medical help to the accident quickly and can get the accident off the road faster.

        And the quicker the accident is cleaned up, the less rubbernecking.

        Which brings police to this point: “If you're going to stop and help, stop and help,” Officer Barrett says. “If you're not going to stop and help, keep on moving.”

        Rubbernecking — slowing down to look at the accident — just creates more fender-benders.

        Tanya Albert's “Commuting” column appears each Monday in Metro. Contact her at tmalbert@enquirer.com

       



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