What to Do If You’re Hit by a Car
You may be in shock, but try to remember these tips
Everything I know about the accident 16 years ago that fractured my skull, landed me in the trauma unit and kept me from my first-ever dinner at Chez Panisse — Berkeley’s world-renowned cradle of California cuisine — I learned from reading the accident report.
I have no memory of the event, although I apparently regained consciousness quickly enough to pester the ambulance paramedic about calling the restaurant. I was adamant he tell my friend that I wasn’t going to make our celebratory supper. For some reason, the paramedic didn’t share my sense of the importance of that call, and my friend was left to dine alone, feeling puzzled and increasingly irritable, then guilty, when she finally got the word.
Here’s what I know about that night. It was dusk and drizzling. I was wearing a dark trench coat. I was crossing a busy thoroughfare in San Francisco outside a metro station. The driver who hit me initially didn’t see me, although I was walking in a well-marked pedestrian crosswalk with bold white stripes.
I spent two nights in the hospital, had surgery for lacerations on my forehead and ear and then recuperated at home. The guy who hit me sent flowers — perhaps to make up for the fact that he was significantly underinsured. When I finally obtained the accident report from the police, I was surprised by what I learned.
According to witnesses and the police, the car tried to stop too late and skidded toward me as I attempted to retreat to the sidewalk. I went up on the hood, head-butted his windshield (shattering it, I was somewhat proud to learn) and then flew 30 feet in the air, landing in some shrubs that broke my fall and may have saved my life.
I was lucky — a lot more fortunate than the 4,743 pedestrians who were struck by motor vehicles and killed in the last year for which data is available, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Pedestrian accidents are amazingly common, with some 76,000 people injured in 2012. From 2000 to 2009, 11 percent of all fatal traffic crashes involved pedestrians, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
What to do if you’re hit by a car
If you do get hit by a car — and you are conscious — there are some steps you should take to get the medical and legal help you need.
First, get out of the street if you can. In the shock following the accident, you may forget you need to move to the sidewalk and out of harm's way.
Bike-walk coalitions such as the Missouri Bike and Pedestrian Federation, along with the Sweeney Law Firm of Fort Wayne, Indiana, also recommend these tips:
Stay calm. No matter how understandably traumatized you are, don’t scream or curse at the driver. Losing your temper won’t help anything and in fact will make you look less sympathetic to the police.
Call the police and wait for them. Don't be tempted to just stumble home. Your shock may keep you from realizing you’re injured. Call 911 to summon the police and get medical help and evaluation. You’ll also need to make an on-the-scene report if possible. Ask the driver to wait with you until the police arrive.
Related: How to Make Your Next Car Safer
Take pictures of the scene and the vehicle license plate if you’re able to, or ask a witness to take some on his or her cell phone.
Get medical attention. You might not initially feel the pain from any injuries, so try to take inventory of your injuries by asking yourself a few questions:
- What hurts?
- Can I see any injuries?
- Are any of my clothes torn? (Torn garments may indicate an area of the body that is injured.)
"Feel your face, head, arms and legs. Is there any blood? You may be bleeding but your body may not be able to ‘process’ the accompanying pain due to shock," advises the Sweeney Law Firm.
If you’re able to talk, exchange only basic information — name and phone number — with the driver that hit you. Attorneys advise you not to speak in any detail about the accident and your symptoms with the driver or his or her companions, or later to the driver’s insurance company.
If the driver didn’t stop, get the names and number of witnesses (if you’re able to). Don’t count on people to come forward later.
Call your attorney and insurance company. Discuss the case only with your own insurance agent or attorney, and of course to medical professionals. Your attorney may even advise you to consult with her first before talking with your insurance company. Most policies cover pedestrian accidents.
As soon as you can, write down the sequence of events that led up to the accident.
Don’t broadcast your experience on social media, no matter how tempting. This could have a negative impact on your case.
A word about prevention
There are a few lessons I take from my experience: It’s all well and good to be a moderately militant pedestrian like I am, who believes cars should stop for people walking in crosswalks. But it’s best to make absolutely certain that cars are slowing down to stop before you start crossing, especially if it’s dark and you’re wearing grey or black.
And that gets to a few other pedestrian-safety tips offered by the CDC:
- If you walk at night, carry a flashlight or wear reflective clothing. If you can’t be seen, you’re more apt to be hit.
- Always try to cross streets at designated intersections or crosswalks (but let me assure you, that’s no guarantee of safety).
- Day or night, walk on sidewalks. If that’s not an option, walk on the shoulder facing traffic so you can see what’s coming at you.
Another thing to bear in mind is that about a third of pedestrians killed in traffic crashes are drunk. So if you’ve been drinking, don’t drive, of course, but be extra careful if you walk. Best thing is to take a cab or have a sober designated driver or walking companion.
And if you want to be extra careful, wait until both lanes of traffic are clear before crossing the street.
Taking time to heal
If you are hit by a car, take some time to recover — emotionally and physically. Being hit by a car can hurt you in ways that aren’t immediately apparent. It’s certainly a shocking and frightening experience. In my case, I was most worried about brain damage, especially when my memory was clouded or I found myself grasping for words. My friends kindly reassured me I was no different.
Rest and recovery is important before you get back to your regular life. I did, eventually, and even claimed a rain check on my dinner at Chez Panisse. It was worth the wait, but not the trauma.